Thus far, it's been an exceptional summer at the movies. We've been lucky enough to have week after week of crowd-pleasing, smart blockbusters of every variety, from family films ("How to Train Your Dragon 2") to sci-fi ("Edge of Tomorrow") to superhero ("X-Men: Days of Future Past") and comedy ("22 Jump Street"), but that non-stop stream of quality movies hit a slight speed bump this past weekend with the release of "Transformers: Age of Extinction." The fourth installment of Michael Bay's cinematic ode to robotic mayhem had the distinction of being the only film opening in wide release, and if you've seen one Transformers movie, you've seen them all. So what better time to check out what's new in the world of On Demand indie film?
First up is director David Wain's supremely silly comedy, "They Came Together," starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd. In 2001's "Wet Hot American Summer," Wain and his trusted stable of comedian friends sent up the 80's teen comedy, and created a modern comedy classic. Now Wain and company take aim at the romantic comedy, embracing all of the established clichés and giving the genre the nice, big wedgie it so richly deserves.
Poehler and Rudd and Molly and Joel. She's the quirky, klutzy proprietor of a mom-and-pop candy shop, so kind-hearted that she gives all of her candy away for free. He's the straight-laced office drone working for a large candy corporation (Candy Systems and Research), but is a sweet, sensitive guy underneath. In a framing device that runs through the movie, Molly and Joel share the story of how they met to another couple, played by Ellie Kemper and Bill Hader, over dinner.
It's a familiar story; they were set up by friends and despised one another based on terrible first impressions, but soon learn they have more in common than they realized — for example, an ardent love of fiction books. Molly marvels, "I've literally never met anyone else who likes fiction!" Their story follows the corny formula established by decades worth of romantic comedies like "You've Got Mail" and "When Harry Met Sally," but here, everything is cranked to 11 and the film is well aware of its ridiculousness — though arguably too aware.
"They Came Together" works in large part based on the charms of its stars. Are there two performers working currently that are more likeable than Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd? I'd argue there aren't, and "They Came Together" just furthers my hypothesis. They work so well together, I'd love to see them paired in a straight-up romantic comedy. The rest of the cast is rounded out by seemingly every actor working in comedy today, including Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Ken Marino, and Michael Ian Black to name a few. Greenfield in particular deserves special mention for his scene-stealing turn as Joel's adoring younger brother. That most of the cast appeared in "Wet Hot," along with Wain's TV series, "The State," contributes to the feeling we're watching a bunch of friends goofing off together.
If "They Came Together" doesn't quite reach the delirious highs of that previous film, it's because it too often settles for simply re-enacting those familiar scenarios with a wink, but not saying anything particularly original about them. It's always funny, but the film is at its best when it forges its own path, lets its hair down, and really gets weird.