REVIEW: They Came Together

5 07 2014

They Came TogetherGenres naturally go through cycles, and right now, the romantic comedy is in a bit of a slump.  When I started writing this blog nearly five years ago, it was riding high with smash hits like “The Proposal” and “The Ugly Truth.”  If you look at the market now, there hasn’t really been a rom-com hit since 2011’s “Crazy Stupid Love,” largely because those kinds of movies just aren’t being made.

Why exactly they have gone out of fashion so dramatically is anyone’s guess.  It’s likely a combination of many factors, but two films point out some of the reasons why no one is rushing to finance “28 Dresses.”  Back in 2009, “(500) Days of Summer” took a revisionist angle on the genre, pointing out many romantic comedy conventions that needed to be reworked in order to be more in touch with the audience.

And now, in 2014, “They Came Together” marks the point where the genre’s hallmarks are so recognizable that they can be mercilessly sent up in an unrelenting satire.  David Wain, the great mind behind “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Role Models,” dismantles the romantic comedy with confidence and pinpoint accuracy.

His script lays bare all the subtext that most of us blindly accept when we encounter a standard genre pic, pointing out everything from the stereotypes of the characters (clumsy girl, non-threateningly masculine guy) to the role of New York City (like another character).  “They Came Together” is at its best when Wain performs his point-by-point deconstruction of all the clichés that normally trap the genre, due largely in part to how wonderfully Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler can cut up while sending up the trademarks.

“They Came Together” winds up coming slightly undone, however, by the sophomoric silliness that fills the moments that aren’t so brutally self-aware.  Wain is usually quite clever with his comedy (the notable exception being “Wanderlust“), and here, he drops to the level of Seth MacFarlane in “Family Guy” or “Ted.”  It’s funny on occasion but wildly inconsistent overall with one joke bombing and the next hitting the sweet spot.  Thankfully, it never quite stoops to the level of the movies it lambasts, but Wain might have had one of the most spectacular spoofs of all time on his hands had he just stuck to the more high-minded humor.  B-2stars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 21, 2012)

21 12 2012

There are few movies in the world that can make me laugh harder than “Role Models,” my pick for “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  An R-rated romp that slipped through the cracks for most upon release in 2008, David Wain’s riotous comedy is fantastic through and through.  It’s held up miraculously well, too – trust me, I’ve watched it dozens of times and still bust a gut.

As the two leads doing a comic man/straight man routine, Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd are absolute perfection.  Scott gets to play the absurd variation of the Stifler character for “American Pie” that made him famous, while Paul Rudd plays perhaps his best bleakly blunt pessimist yet.  Though Rudd rings real in opposition to the ridiculous Scott, that doesn’t mean he’s grim or depressing.  Rather, he’s all the funnier and relatable as Paul Rudd proves once again he might be the most adept actor at bringing all our frustrations and annoyances to comedic light.

The free-wheeling Wheeler (Scott) and Danny (Rudd) find themselves in a world of trouble after a particularly bad day on the job peddling energy drinks to kids.  But rather than go to prison for their trail of destruction, they wind up getting community service at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-Little Brother type program.  The two quickly find out that prison is a more appealing option than most people would consider.

First of all, Sturdy Wings is run by a crackpot ex-alcoholic and drug addict, Gayle Sweeney – played by Jane Lynch pre-Sue Sylvester (this part probably got her that character).  And to say she steals the show is a vast understatement.  You only hear every other line from her because your laughs from one line bleed over well into the next one.  She speaks in bizarre metaphors that don’t make sense and LOVES reminding everyone of her former habits to a painstakingly hilarious extent.

And Gayle pairs them with two “littles” that scared off everyone else who was volunteering.  Wheeler gets stuck with a firecracker in Ronnie, a crude and manipulative little version of himself.  Danny, on the other hand, is given Augie, an introvert with a good heart that loves nothing more than a good live-action roleplaying game.  Their adventures are strange and funny, leading them to campfires and virtual battlefields, but David Wain brings a funny-bone and a heart to every moment of it.  His “Role Models” packs an excellent message of mentoring and guidance towards becoming a better person without ever being sappy or cheesy; rather, he finds a way to get it across smoothly with laughs, smiles, and good feelings all around.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 3, 2012)

3 08 2012

Well, if I hadn’t taken a number of hiatuses, my 100th entry in the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” series (that’s First Class, Independent Little-Known Movie, just a reminder) would have come around June or July 2011.  But a belated milestone is still a milestone, so I’m going to celebrate by writing about “Wet Hot American Summer,” perhaps one of the most underappreciated cult comedies of recent memory.  Starring just about all your favorite comedians WAY before they were famous, it’s a hilarious time capsule that surely needs to be opened if you are a fan of anyone in the massive cast!

It’s the last day of summer at a Jewish camp in Maine – in 1981, no less – so that means everyone is trying to attend to some unfinished business.  The movie juggles a ton of storylines in an hour and a half, some of which don’t work as well as others, I’ll admit.  A number of the jokes are just so stupid, you have to wonder whether you want to laugh or just cringe.

But director David Wain, who later found commercial success and critical acclaim with “Role Models,” just never lets the relentless onslaught of over-the-top, farcical comedy end.  And for that, it could make for a “Napoleon Dynamite”-style viewing trajectory: perhaps just some chuckling the first time, and then those giggles turn into full-on belly laughs as the nuances of the humor reveal themselves over multiple viewings.

It’s certainly worth watching to see the beginnings of Paul Rudd’s caustic humor, albeit slightly more hammed up, as an airheaded horndog lifeguard who can really cop an attitude.  The object of his affection, at least momentarily, is Elizabeth Banks – until he decides she tastes like hamburgers and doesn’t like her anymore.

Amy Poehler is another scene-stealer as Susie, the bossy, controlling counselor in charge of theater intending to stage a number of “Godspell” as if she were working on Broadway.  What makes her character even better, though, is that she is flanked by preppy, Lacoste-clad minion Ben at all times.  Now, Ben is played by none other than Phil Wenneck himself, Bradley Cooper.  His PR people have done a mighty great job keeping this movie on the down low … I’ll let you find out for yourself why he probably doesn’t want many people to discover this early role of his.  I think it’s absolutely hilarious, as is the rest of the movie, and I highly recommend you find out Bradley Cooper’s surprise and many other raunchy delights I didn’t even mention in this cursory overview!





REVIEW: Wanderlust

29 02 2012

I think it’s crucial to apply a comparative approach to evaluating the merits of “Wanderlust.”  When you look at it in relation to “Role Models” and “Wet Hot American Summer,” director David Wain’s first two comedies, it’s a disappointment that settles for cliches and stereotypes rather than the unique brand of humor on display in his prior work.  But of course, compared to other mainstream comedies of the moment, its mild satisfactions are amplified probably more than they should.

Marveling at cult-like communes is nothing new, and the colorful cast of nudists, stoners, and washed-up hippies certainly play into just about every single one of our preconceived notions.  It’s amusing enough to watch their antics play out in front of two newly unemployed Manhattan refugees played by the ever hilarious Paul Rudd and the ever gorgeous Jennifer Aniston.  Both are a little creeped out at first, but she eventually warms up to the idea of living in a subculture of open doors and open marriages.

There are a few good laughs here and there, but the majority of the time, I just sat there wondering when it would reach “Role Models” heights.  Thankfully it does at one point due to Paul Rudd, who honestly might get my vote for the funniest person working in comedy at the moment.  His dry, caustic, and biting sarcasm hits home every time even when he’s not trying to be funny (and if someone made a movie of my life, I would want him to play me).  Rudd gets one scene, improvised I assume, where he gets to totally let loose with wild accents and wordplay trying to pump himself up for a sexual encounter that absolutely brings down the house.  I was easily laughing for a solid two minutes afterwards, totally missing the next scene.  And really, as long as I get one of those for my money, I go home happy no matter how derivative or childish the rest of the movie might have been.  B-