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Film Reviews They Came Together: A parody party that gets painful

Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are adept at self-satisfied comedy.

JoJo Whilden/eOne

2 out of 4 stars

Title
They Came Together
Written by
Michael Showalter and David Wain
Directed by
David Wain
Starring
Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English

In the most memorable scene of They Came Together, Paul Rudd's lovelorn leading man finds himself in familiar romcom territory – pouring his heart out to crabby, tell-it-like-it-is bartender in a dark, hole-in-the-wall saloon.

Bartender: "You look like you've had a bad day."

Rudd: "You can say that again."

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Bartender: "Well, you came in here looking like crap and you haven't said very much."

Rudd: "Tell me about it."

Bartender: "Well, you came in here looking like crap and you haven't said very much."

Rudd: "You can say that again."

Bartender: "Well, you came in here looking like crap and you haven't said very much."

Rudd: "Tell me about it."

The exchange is repeated maybe 25 times – first it's funny, then it's tiresome, then it's painful, then it's so tiresome and painful that it's actually funny again, which is more or less an apt synopsis of this entire movie that is at times laugh out loud-inducing, but ultimately feels more like a promising Saturday Night Live skit (the romcom couple?) than a standalone piece of entertainment.

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We open on a double date where Joel (Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) joke about how their love story is a parody of a typical romantic comedy – she is an adorably quirky klutz, he is handsome "in a non-threatening way," and "vaguely, but not overtly Jewish." The third character in their love story, they explain, is New York and from there the self-conscious clichés come faster than Meg Ryan in a cinematic diner: She runs an artisanal sweet shop, he works for a soulless candy megacorp. He talks out his relationship issues with his diverse gaggle of buddies on the basketball court, she saves her heart-to-hearts for her sassy black assistant/BFF. They meet wearing ridiculous matching costumes at a friend's Halloween party. First they hate each other, then they love each other, then they break up because, you know, she forgot to mention that her parents are white supremacists.

This is the basic set-up for a movie that is sort of an homage to, and largely a send-up of all things romcom – familiar trope, followed by familiar trope followed by familiar trope with ridiculous twist. Poehler and Rudd are both more than adept at this sort of winky, self-satisfied comedy that requires a simultaneous commitment to the gag and a sense of ironic distance, and so are many of the supporting players – most notably Christopher Meloni, who is best known for playing a no-nonsense cop on Law & Order SVU, but is also brilliant at deadpan. He has to be to pull off a scene in which his corporate tycoon character flees the aforementioned Halloween party after getting caught for relieving himself in his superhero costume. And no, that's not a romcom cliché, but then, neither are KKK-sympathetic in-laws. Instead, these super-WTF moments are a way of pushing the punchline even further by imagining the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen in a given set-up and then doing it (almost literally in the case of Joel's sentimental-turned-sexual encounter with his dear old grandma, played by movie-granny extraordinaire, Lynn Cohen).

The meeting of the clever-clever club reaches a cloying climax when a musical montage is interrupted by behind-the-scenes footage of the real Poehler and Rudd dropping in on the recording session for the song playing in the movie (Norah Jones's I Was the Last Thing On Your Mind, which appears on the soundtrack.) Poehler's Parks and Rec co-star Adam Scott is there, playing a sound engineer and so is John Stamos from Full House, because, you know, that's funny. Until it's tiresome.

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