Diligently replicating the tropes employed by countless romantic comedies – from third act contrivances to thinly-drawn friends that exist only as sounding boards – They Came Together is both a merciless parody of the genre's well-worn conventions and an affectionate homage to them.
Starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd as archetypal business rivals-turned-romantic interests, the film shares its absurdist tone with the other work of director David Wain, which includes Wet Hot American Summer and seminal sketch show The State. Ahead of its upcoming release in cinemas and on VOD we spoke to David about the project's long gestation and why romantic comedies hold an enduring appeal.
You co-wrote They Came Together with Michael Showalter in 2002. What stopped it getting made then?
Originally we wrote it for a big studio as a more straightforward spoof that was in vogue at the time, more like Scary Movie, but the studio believed that the audience for those kinds of movies and the people who are interested in romantic comedies don't generally overlap. They were probably right: it wouldn't have been a great studio project. I'm happier with the way we made it now, more in our own voice. It seems to makes sense in this configuration: it's a smaller movie, and it's come at a time when the audience is more caught up to the people involved and our sense of humour.
Is it freeing to make something for a lower budget, or does it bring other challenges?
I tend to say it's more freeing because of the different stakes. For better or worse, we had the ability to make the movie we wanted to make, which is the only way it could have worked. Unless you happen to fall into a situation where a studio really understands your work and wants to protect it, the normal development and oversight process is creatively very hard on comedy that's from a specific point of view.
They Came Together picks apart romantic comedies but it seems that to make it you'd have to have a genuine passion for the genre too. Do you?
I have a huge passion for them. Romantic comedies are among my favourite films. Michael and I have been friends since we were 18 years old and we bonded over talking about romantic comedies and the ones we love. Truthfully, even the ones that aren't great we love too. There's just something comforting and wonderful about the rom-com formula and we both have real nostalgia and love for it. Along with that comes having fun pointing out the tropes. My feeling is that They Came Together isn't saying romantic comedies are stupid, it's saying the opposite. They're worthy of being made fun of.
The formula works even as it's being deconstructed: you can't help being a little swept up in the story's romance.
Exactly. In a way if there's any investment in these characters that's a true testament to the genre formula. We are doing our best to undercut it at every single moment but still the chemistry and charisma of our two leads and the basic tent poles of the formula overrides that to some degree.
What would you say is the most egregious romantic comedy trope for you?
There are so many. From top to bottom there are requisite situations in romantic comedies that don't bear any resemblance to most people's real lives. One of the most bizarre ones is the larger narrative structure: more often than not the boy and girl are really in love and things fall apart based on a single event that is often very simplistic, and then the reason they make up is even more simplistic – one goes up to the other one and says the right thing at the right moment and all is forgiven. It grossly simplifies and romanticises the real nature of relationships, which I think is exactly why we love these movies. They avoid the complexity and frustration and messiness of actual relationships.
They Came Together is out in UK cinemas on the 5th of September.