J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

They Came Together—But Can They Stay Together for a Sequel

Last night the Tribeca Film Festival hosted free screenings of When Harry Met Sally in all five boroughs (except Brooklyn, where winds were just too windy). For some reason, New Yorkers collectively chose the rom-com for Tribeca’s Film For All promotion, even though we could all more easily relate to New York films like Death Wish and The Exterminator. If you haven’t seen it by now, you’re probably never going to. However, those who remember when Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan were movie stars will appreciate most of the gags in David Wain’s They Came Together (trailer here), opening this Friday in New York, which is practically like another character in the film.

Should you doubt it, Joel and Molly will assert the New Yorkiness of their romance right from the start, as they recount their story for another couple with the profound misfortune to be having dinner with them. As the flashback narrative commences, Joel is about to break up with Tiffany, his hot on the outside, icy on the inside girlfriend. Since Molly is still smarting from her last break-up, their mutual friends want to fix them up (at a Halloween party).

Instead, they bicker like cats and dogs. It hardly helps matter when Molly learns Joel works for the candy store conglomerate trying to force her cutesy corner store out of business. Of course they will still fall for it, but they will take turns sabotaging their budding relationship.

Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter are so busy skewering romantic comedy clichés they do not even bother wasting time on boring stuff like characterization. Their humor whipsaws back and forth between droll satire and unrepentantly naughty slapstick. It is often quite funny, but after a while viewers will realize there is nothing for them to invest in emotionally. Even Mel Brooks classics (the gold standard of movie spoofs) had a bit of heart anchoring them. TC Together is really more like a serial skit or a web series than a movie. Still, you have to respect Wain and Showalter’s willingness to tip over sacred cows and subvert viewers expectations by twisting the very rom-com conventions they are sending up.

As Molly and Joel, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd are game for just about any joke in questionable taste, but they are still rather low wattage when it comes to screen charisma. On the other hand, Cobie Smulders’ Tiffany is appropriately cold and decorative, while audiences may never look at SVU’s Christopher Meloni in the same way after his outrageous turn as Joel’s boss, Roland. Nora Jones also has an amusing cameo as herself, but if you do not remember when MTV and VH-1 played music videos in the 1980s, you probably won’t get it.

TC Together is consistently entertaining, but defiantly shallow. It is like having ice cream for dinner. It is sweet and gives you a rush, but a steak would be more satisfying. Recommended for those who miss movie spoofs that do not require turning off nine tenths of your brain to endure (hello, Wayanses), They Came Together opens this Friday (6/27) in New York (which is very much like another character in the film) at the Cinema Village.

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