Quite often, I find myself scrolling through movie after movie on Netflix, trying to decide which movie I wanna watch in the middle of the night. Netflix’s variety is a blessing and a curse–it’s wonderful to have all these options, but the abundance of choices makes it so freaking hard to actually pick and commit to one movie. What if I pick a really shitty movie? I could have been watching something else! As Aziz Ansari puts it in his Netflix stand-up, “No one wants to commit to shit, because they’re terrified something better’s gonna come along!” Aziz was talking about making plans with friends, but I think it’s equally applicable to picking something to watch. We’re dealing with some uppercrust first world problems, here.
Well, on this blog, I’ll be doing a semi-regular series called Midnight Netflix Movie, where I wade through the shit Netflix has to offer and tell you if it might be worth your time. High on the humor of Wet Hot American Summer, the first movie I went with for this series was They Came Together, a film written and directed by the same guys behind WHAS.
When I do these posts, it’ll always be for movies I’ve never seen before, and I’ll try to choose movies I know little to nothing about beyond the info Netflix provides me. So for They Came Together, I know we’ve got the creative team of WHAS, which is a plus. The synopsis Netflix provides doesn’t sound bad (see image above). I could be into a spoof of the romantic comedy. Amy Poehler? Sure, she’s funny! Paul Rudd? I’m fucking sold!
So I hit play with no other information. This is always the best way to watch a movie on Netflix–zero expectations makes it hard to be disappointed. Unfortunately, I had some expectations I couldn’t avoid. I thought Wet Hot American Summer was hilarious, and Paul Rudd is pretty much the man, so I was expecting more than what I got in They Came Together.
As a fan of director David Wain’s work, there’s a lot to like in this movie. Quite a few members of the WHAS cast pop up here, and I think Christopher Meloni (of Law & Order: SVU fame) is totally in his element when doing comedy. Amusingly, a joke about accidentally shitting your pants that plays out in the First Day of Camp Netflix series is inexplicably set up in They Came Together. That was a great moment. Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are both incredibly funny, which should surprise no one at this point. Their chemistry together is good, too.
Netflix labels They Came Together as a semi-spoof, and that’s actually pretty accurate. The movie is not nearly outlandish enough to be straight parody material, but the movie is definitely going out of its way to criticize the romantic comedy genre and highlight its faults. In this regard, I have to hand it to They Came Together: the movie succeeds.
The problem with this smart criticism is that it’s being dished out alongside an actual romantic comedy. The criticism given is solid, but the movie itself feels less like a movie than an overtly long SNL skit, or patchwork of skits. As a whole, the narrative falls flat, and not all of the jokes land because of it. Say what you will about Wet Hot American Summer, but that movie actually delivers a fairly tight plot. While there’s plot to be found here, it’s unwieldy–and maybe that’s what the movie is going for, who knows? Perhaps that in and of itself is a criticism it’s making. But I can’t help but think of The Cabin in the Woods, a movie that serves as a criticism/commentary of the horror genre, and remember how well it delivered a solid, tight plot alongside its moments of comedic deconstruction.
So should you bother with it? Man, this is where it gets tricky. I think you could do a lot worse than They Came Together, honestly. If your idea of the perfect midnight Netflix movie is something dumb that’ll make you laugh, then this is certainly a movie for you. But if you’re looking for something more serious, or, at least, something of a higher quality, then I’d avoid it.
Note: The joke I referenced in the beginning of this post is from Aziz Ansari: Live at Madison Square Garden, and that’s something I’d recommend in a heartbeat. While it doesn’t reach the comedic heights of his previous Netflix standup, Buried Alive, it’s still very funny and offers a lot of social commentary. So if you’re feeling like They Came Together isn’t your thing, check that out instead.