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They Came Together' is a meta-rom-com

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Parody skewers romantic comedy genre

As someone who is a fan of good romantic comedy, I'm well aware that there are numerous tropes and clichs that litter the genre. There are certain inescapable qualities to a rom-com good or bad. These qualities define the style; a film's degree of success (or failure) relies heavily on the filmmaker's ability to put those qualities to work.

But then someone like David Wain gets his hands on it and shows us just how ridiculous those qualities can be.

Wain, a former member of legendary sketch comedy troupe The State, has given us parody before his 'Wet Hot American Summer' was a brilliant skewering of 'camp comedies' but now he has turned his satiric skills toward romantic comedy.

'They Came Together' directed by Wain from a script he co-wrote with fellow 'State' alum Michael Showalter is the result. It's a hilarious albeit uneven takedown of everything we ever knew about the rom-com.

Molly (Amy Poehler, TV's 'Parks and Recreation') is the owner of a quirky little candy shop in New York City. She's recently single, but happy with the life that she's leading. Joel (Paul Rudd, 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues') is an executive with a large corporate candy conglomerate that's threatening to open across the street from Molly's shop.

They get set up on a blind date; their initial and immediate dislike for each other gradually gives way to affection. However, Joel is still hung up on his ex (Cobie Smulders, 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier') even though she cheated on him with his rival for the big account and promotion. Molly's sister and Joel's brother each have their own perspective to add on the situation.

But when storm clouds brew, the happy twosome find themselves drifting apart. The two fall into the arms of others Joel returns to his ex, while Molly finally gives in to the advances of her financial advisor Eggbert (Ed Helms, 'We're the Millers'). But as always happens, they find their way back to one another following a handful of dramatic last-minute moments and a big speech or three.

All of this, by the way, is framed by your standard 'tell the story of how you met' device Joel and Molly are chatting with their friends Kyle (Bill Hader, 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2') and Karen (Ellie Kemper, TV's 'The Office') over dinner as they relate the story of their relationship.

Does that sound like a boilerplate description of just about every rom-com you've ever seen? If so, then mission accomplished, because that's precisely what Wain and company are aiming for. Every single aspect of the romantic comedy is pushed and exaggerated into something ridiculous; if it's something that you've seen in a movie starring Hugh Grant or Sandra Bullock, you'll likely see it pushed to illogical extremes in 'They Came Together.'

Best of all, it works. It's ludicrous, of course, but it's also the ideal blend of smart-stupid. And it's really funny.

A lot of the credit goes to Rudd and Poehler, who are the ideal foundation for this sort of satiric meta-comedy. The parody works because they are willing to commit completely and utterly; it's all played straight and sincere, which just serves to make it that much funnier. It doesn't hurt that they've got a fair amount of real chemistry. But the rest of the cast is phenomenal too Smulders is great as the standard 'terrible hot chick' and Helms is perfect as the 'nerdy friend rebound.' And the rest of the supporting cast too numerous to name fills in the assorted Mad Libs rom-com blanks.

It's a great idea. Granted, it doesn't always fire on all cylinders it occasionally feels a bit long despite a short runtime. In those moments, it feels more like an overstuffed sketch rather than a full-blown movie. Fortunately, those moments are rare Rudd and Poehler are more than magnetic enough to carry the day.

'They Came Together' is funny in its own right, but as a commentary on the concept of the romantic comedy, it borders on brilliant. It doesn't quite match an effort like 'Wet Hot American Summer,' but it's a heck of a lot closer than you might expect. Call this a win for Wain.

[4 out of 5]

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