*** (out of four)
What may as well have been called “Wet Hot Met Sally,” “They Came Together” cheekily replicates romantic comedy cliches. But director David Wain (“Wet Hot American Summer”) and co-writer Michael Showalter bring such absurd glee to messing with convention that you’re more focused on how often you burst out laughing than on the obvious premise’s limitations.
The meta comedy begins on a double date, where Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) insist on telling another couple (Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper) a detailed story about their relationship. They acknowledge how much they resemble quintessential rom-com leads—Joel is mildly, non-threateningly handsome and Molly a klutz who just can’t get her life in order. Worse, she owns a New York candy store called Upper Sweet Side, while he works for the evil Candy Systems and Research Corp. When Joel and Molly meet, they realize they could be happy together but write it off on the technicality of initially finding each other annoying.
Fortunately, Wain and Showalter expand on the basic predictability of a genre that’s almost ceased to exist. Great moments include Joel needing to play basketball with his friends (all of whom have differing views on relationships) before he can propose to the woman (Cobie Smulders) who inevitably will break his heart, and an in-movie Norah Jones music video (guest-starring Rudd and Poehler) recognizing the looming presence of soapy adult contemporary music.
No one should be blind to the touchstones the parody steps on. The 77-minute movie barely can fill a feature-length running time, and it’s hard not to space out occasionally, imagining what will come of the possible “Wet Hot” Netflix series. Then “They Came Together” has fun with nonsense like Molly’s quirkily specific muffin order and you jump back in, happy for a love story that makes you happy without needing to fall for stereotypes and laziness. Of course, most of the jokes don’t translate on paper or add up to anything as classic as “Wet Hot” or even Wain’s “Role Models.”
It’s not much, but for those who found 2012’s enjoyable but tiresome “Wanderlust” a little much, “They Came Together” is all it needs to be.
Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.
Copyright © 2015, RedEye