Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) are enjoying dinner at a restaurant with their friends Kyle (Bill Hader) and Karen (Ellie Kemper) and conversation turns to how they met. Turns out Kyle met Karen over an argument over The New York Times, which she likes and he thinks is utterly without merit, awful really, but they have never heard how Joel and Molly got together, so invite them to tell the story. It's actually a pretty funny tale, and if it hadn't happened in real life it would sound as if it was something out of a romantic comedy movie, you see it all happened in New York City, which is almost like another character, where Molly ran her own candy shop but Joel was employed by a massive confectionary conglomerate...
If you have ever watched one of those romcoms and far from thinking, aww, isn't that nice, if only reality could be that swoonsome, you in fact thought, what is this bullshit?, then They Came Together would be like a mighty splash of ice water to the face, for writers David Wain (also on directing duties) and Michael Showalter had an observation to make: these movies were insane. Nobody acts like this. They are a fantasy assuming so many contrivances that it's a miracle anyone in their right mind takes them seriously. Now, this was coming from a couple of middle-aged male cynics, so you could argue romcoms were not exactly made for their target audience, but after watching them skewer every cliché here you might see they had a point.
Wain and Showalter, along with Michael Ian Black who took an acting role here, were veterans of the comedy circuit having emerged in the MTV sketch show The State in the nineteen-nineties, a show that still commands a loyal following in spite of everything that trio did subsequently was considerably funnier including the underrated Stella which honed their absurdist stylings. But the main achievement in their humour was a film which brought together their buddies in much the same way They Came Together did, a spoof of the summer camp movies of the eighties called Wet Hot American Summer. That did practically nothing on its release, but went on to generate a sizeable cult of those who responded to its ludicrous hilarity.
Similarly, this did not make many waves when it was first opened, and that in spite of those buddies who were returning from the previous film having gone on to considerable success elsewhere, with Rudd enjoying many starring roles in movies and Poehler leading her own hit sitcom Parks & Recreation. Ah, but quality will out, as while there were too many who simply did not "get" the sense of humour, the plucky few who understood the point of it all appreciated the go for broke nature of conjuring anything for laugh, including Joel's boss dressing up as a superhero for a Halloween party then shitting himself when he can't get the costume off in the bathroom, or Joel's inspirational moment with his sweet old Bubby taking a disturbingly sexual turn from out of nowhere.
Not all of it was as random as that, indeed Wain and Showalter really seemed to have it in for the romcom genre, obsessively recreating the kind of scenes you'd seen a million times, and even if you hadn't you'd somehow be aware of the conventions by a sort of cultural osmosis. So there was the meet cute at that party where they think they hate each other but can't help but be attracted too, the first date which ends with them walking away because they cannot commit, the exes who throw a spanner in the works, the situation at work that should really put them at loggerheads, and then the elements which show up here in apparently arbitrary order - suddenly Molly has a son for Joel to bond with for exactly one scene then he's barely mentioned again for example. That They Came Together had little more to say other than, look, these movies are really idiotic, how can you allow yourself to be fooled by them? Your stupid, stupid minds! and so forth did not detract from how genuinely funny this was assuming you held very few of them in any affection. This was stupid, but clever.