THEY CAME TOGETHER directed by David Wain, written by Michael Showalter and Wain, with Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni and Max Greenfield. An Entertainment One release. 84 minutes. Opens Friday (June 27). For venues and times, see Movies.
David Wain wants you to know something about the leads of most romantic comedies: if they actually existed in the real world, they'd be awful, awful people.
"Horrible," Wain says, "and sort of just curiously stupid or naive. And just lacking almost any level of complexity or self-awareness."
That's what sparks his new movie, They Came Together, a withering satire that finds Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler merrily undoing the rom-com template as New Yorkers whose hate-at-first-sight relationship leads to the stuff of... well, of bad romantic comedies.
"We wrote this in 2002, right after we did Wet Hot American Summer," Wain explains. "We were gonna try to make it more real, like a mainstream studio spoof movie. I think part of the reason it didn't happen was because it was too much in our own singular voice. In some way, the audience hadn't caught up to it.
"But when we pulled it out of the drawer a couple of years ago, it did feel like it made much more sense, in every way. I think we're releasing it to an audience that is much more ready to see it than they might have been in 2002."
He's not wrong. The self-aware comedy that Wain and his State colleagues (see sidebar) were doing back then took a while to catch on. (Yup, I panned Wet Hot American Summer on its initial release, finding it too arch and self-satisfied - though I did love Christopher Meloni and the trip into town.)
But over the years, Wain and his collaborators have taught us how to get the joke, refining their deadpan subversiveness in shows like The State, Stella and Children's Hospital, and movies like Role Models and Wanderlust.
"Some people are just like, ‘I don't get it. Is that supposed to be funny?'" he says. "We wanted to include the audience more this time, if we could."
Part of that involves a framing sequence that finds Rudd and Poehler's characters telling the story of their romance to another couple, played by Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper. And another element is everyone's cynical insistence that Manhattan is "practically another character in the story" - which, as it turns out, is not exactly true.
"We couldn't afford to actually shoot this in Manhattan," Wain admits. "We shot most of it in Brooklyn - all within a few blocks of [Poehler's] candy store, basically."
The movie even seems to toy with its own sense of location, inventing impossible subway stops against which Rudd and Poehler's romantic fantasy can play out.
"Yeah, there is no such thing as the Upper West Side subway station," Wain says. "That's the Clark Street station in Brooklyn, and basically with our visual effects budget we only had the ability to change it the one time that you could read it most clearly."
And here I thought it was a comment on the way romantic comedies constantly screw around with the geography of their locations.
"Well, let's call it that," Wain laughs. "It was also a comment on the fact that we could only afford so many VFX shots."