They Came Together, the new comedy from David Wain and Michael Showalter of Wet Hot American Summer fame, takes aim at what is essentially a dead art form: the wildly appealing, semi-intellectual, American romantic comedy. In many ways the movie is clever, packed with the kind of sly jokes we've come to expect from Wain and Showalter. In other ways the movie prompts the question: why punch a guy when he's down?
They Came Together has undeniably funny moments. Wain and Showalter undeniably bring out the best in Christopher Meloni, for instance. There are verbal and sight gags that are bold in their insistence, and will likely only grow funnier on repeated viewings. Everyone in the movie—and, honestly, everyone is in this movie—plays some version of their typically, likable selves.
But the movie ultimately fell flat for me. Why? Perhaps it's because I simply wished I was watching a better romantic comedy. None of the characters, including the romantic leads played by Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, are much more than shells that exist for the sake of the movie's parody structure. Even as all the elements of parody work, it's hard to get invested in an 83-minute movie when nothing compels you to root for the main characters to be together. In an interview with Vulture Showalter said of his film "just like withWet Hot American Summer, there's parody, but there's also homage." But Wain and Showalter sell the homage short by not at least investing in the central romance. There is more chemistry between Janeane Garofalo's camp director and and David Hyde Pierce's physicist in Wet Hot American Summer than there is between Poehler's Molly and Rudd's Joel in They Came Together.
Ultimately there's just something sort of perplexing about why this movie exists at this point in time. They Came Together's targets are dated. The Carrie Bradshaw-esque declarations of New York being a character in a story, have been replaced by Hannah Horvath-esque grumbles about being priced out of Greenpoint. The death knell for traditional romantic comedies, like the ones Nora Ephron made and the ones They Came Together takes aim at, has been ringing for a while now. If anything, there's an eagerness for a revival of the genre or at least a nostalgia for its golden age. Just look at the work of Mindy Kaling, whose show The Mindy Project is a self-conscious attempt to revive the genre, while also acknowledging some of its staler conventions.
They Came Together doesn't tell me anything I didn't know about romantic comedies. In fact, it just makes me want to watch a really great one.