I had a friend in college who used to measure the quality of movies by a guesstimated jokes-per-minute ratio. All else being equal, he theorized, the more you laughed, the better. By that metric, They Came Together, a parodic rom-com from Shaker Heights native David Wain and the Stella sketch comedy gang, would be one of the most wildly successful films of all time. (The film opens Friday at the Capitol Theatre).
Honestly: With like three exceptions, every single line is either a joke or the line directly preceding a joke.
The yuck fest is a self-consciously self-conscious parody of rom-coms at large, with considerable influence from both When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail. It stars Amy Pohler and Paul Rudd as Molly and Joel, a gal and a guy who do exactly what vaguely but not overtly Jewish leading men and cute, quirky, instantly lovable blonde leading women do in romantic comedies: They meet in New York City, fall in love, break up and then get back together.
Wain, the Ohioan of Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models fame, is a fan, advocate and progenitor of absurdist humor. The sketch-style scenes that make up the majority of the film are often of the beating-a-dead-horse ilk, but in that respect they tend to comment on the rom-com genre over and above the absurdism; it's a genre which has been hugely susceptible to formula, trope and cliche. As such, the result is often a shambolic wink-fest — so many characters! so much irony! so much meta-commentary! — that can feel like a pretty obvious inside joke at the expense of a genre most of us really love.
And it'd be easy to compare They Came Together to the parody films of the 2000s that became a bloblike franchise after the initial success of Scary Movie. Except very quickly, those films became so awful and formulaic that they themselves were ripe for parody. Unlike Scary Movie 5, the aim in They Came Together is less to mimic emblematic scenes with one or two WACKY changes (though there's certainly some of that here); it seems more to annotate the genre by mercilessly reproducing its accidental nuances and cliches.
It's not only the obvious gags: "You like fiction books?" "I love fiction books!" "I've never met anyone who loves fiction before." It's also the less-remarkable moments: "Make it a double," says Rudd when he retreats to a bar in a moment of self-pity. "Hungry?" "Try starving." Among the many solid jokes, there are plenty of stinkers and question marks. And while the overarching gimmick may be too clever for it's own good, getting this many funny people together and loosing them upon a genre yields some uproarious moments.