Movie Interviews
11:36 am
Sun July 20, 2014

'They Came Together' Is A Terrible Rom-Com On Purpose

Originally published on Mon June 23, 2014 9:58 am

Film director David Wain's work has always been hard to describe. In some ways, it's straight-up spoof: His most famous film, Wet Hot American Summer, lampooned the summer camp films of the 1980s; and his more recent TV show, Childrens Hospital, sends up shows like Grey's Anatomy, where the female lead is living inside an inner monologue.

Now, Wain's newest film, They Came Together, takes on the genre of rom-coms. But even he has a hard time describing it. He tells NPR's Rachel Martin, "One very shorthand way I've come up with is to say it's a purposefully dumb romantic comedy, or a purposefully terrible romantic comedy. But that could really scare people away, so I don't want to say that. ... Another way to say that is it's a grand, huge, funny, crazy spoof movie in the tradition of movies like Airplane."

Wain tells Martin about his feelings toward rom-coms, brazenly copying from You've Got Mail, and the most divisive scene in his new film.


Interview Highlights

On whether there's a part of him that likes romantic comedies

There's all of me that absolutely loves, loves, loves rom-coms. It's probably my favorite genre of movies. ... So many of my favorite movies are rom-coms of sorts, whether it's all the Woody Allen movies or Tootsie or The Graduate. And then, when you get to understand something really well, you also find all the flaws, and that's a lot of what we're having fun with in this movie.

On the parallels between Wain's film and You've Got Mail

One of the main through lines we just brazenly lifted from You've Got Mail. Amy Poehler plays the quirky, you know, independent candy store owner. And then Paul Rudd is an executive at the huge, corporate Candy Systems and Research, and they're gonna take her down. But then they meet otherwise. So it is like You've Got Mail in that way, but the truth is that the story is so beside the point. If you talk about this movie by talking about the storyline, then you've missed the point.

On the layers of jokes in the film's basketball scene

Well, there's so much going on, actually. [It's] Paul Rudd playing basketball in the local playground with his friends after work. And, you know, we feel like [in] every rom-com the guy always has this random group of best friends who he does some big sport with — usually it's basketball — and they have real discussions while also playing basketball at the same time.

People never just talk; they have to be doing something.

And then, of course, each of his friends is a "type." So you have the sort of wistful poet, and then the sex-crazed, you know, Lothario. And of course, the visual of it ... is that every time they shoot the ball and Ken Marino says "swish," the ball goes not even close to the net. Like, [it] doesn't even go within 5 feet of the net.

So it's actually a good example of every scene in our movie filled with like four or five different layers of jokes.

On the scene in which Rudd's character, who is depressed about his relationship problems, has a conversation with a bartender

Well, the bartender says, "Hard Day, huh?"

[Rudd] says, "Yeah, you can say that again."

And so the bartender says it again.

[Bartender: "Well, you came in here looking like crap and you haven't said very much."

Rudd: "Tell me about it."

Bartender: "You came in here looking like crap and you haven't said very much."

Rudd: "Yeah, you can say that again."]

Paul Rudd keep[s] repeating, back and forth, "You can say that again" and "Tell me about it," which then causes the bartender to not only say the exact same thing — we actually just splice in the exact same footage of the bartender's response over and over. ... It's just literally on a loop. ...

It's interesting because I know that in screenings, pretty much every time, what happens is people start laughing, then they get annoyed and stop laughing. Then it keeps going and they start laughing all the harder, and it becomes, for many, the favorite scene of the movie because they're like: I can't believe you actually did that. But even in our test screenings, it was one — and this happens in every movie — there's always that one scene that is at the top of both lists of what was the audience's favorite scene and what was the audience's least favorite scene.

On whether the scene's distinction as the audience's favorite and least favorite scene pleases him

It does. It means that there's passion. And I've always felt that way. And most of the work that I have done over my career has been that. ... It's their favorite thing, or they really hated it. And the middle ground is not so much what we get, and I'm very happy with that.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

The film director David Wain's work has always been hard to describe. In some ways, it's a straight-up spoof. In his most famous film, "Wet Hot American Summer," he lampooned the summer camp films of the 1980s. In his more recent TV show, "Children's Hospital," he sends up shows like "Grey's Anatomy," where the female lead is living inside an inner monologue.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL")

LAKE BELL: (As Dr. Cat Black) A hospital isn't a place for lazy people. A hospital is a place for smart people who take care of people who aren't smart enough to keep themselves healthy.

NEARY: His films have a good helping of aimless absurdism mixed in, too. David Wain's newest movie, "They Came Together," takes on the genre of rom-coms. But when you watch the film, you do begin to wonder how vehemently David Wain must hate romantic comedies. When Rachel Martin sat down with him, the first thing she asked was...

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Is there a part of you that genuinely likes a good rom-com?

DAVID WAIN: There's all of me that absolutely loves, loves, loves rom-coms. It's probably my favorite genre of movies over my life.

MARTIN: Truly?

WAIN: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, so many of my favorite movies are rom-coms of sorts, whether it's all the Woody Allen movies or "Tootsie" or "The Graduate." And then, when you get to understand something really well, you also find all the flaws. And that's a lot of what we're having fun with in this movie.

MARTIN: There are some very direct parallels with "You've Got Mail" in this film though, right? Am I just imagining that?

WAIN: Well, yes. One of the main through lines we just brazenly lifted from "You've Got Mail."

(LAUGHTER)

WAIN: Amy Poehler plays the quirky, you know, independent candy store owner. And then Paul Rudd is an executive at the huge corporate Candy Systems and Research. And they're going to take her down. But then they meet otherwise. And so it is like "You've Got Mail" in that way. But the truth is that the story is so beside the point. And when - if you talk about this movie by talking about the storyline, then you've missed the point.

MARTIN: I want to play a scene that can kind of capture what we're talking about here. Because it is, unless you've seen the film - it can be hard to understand what this meta-comedy is all about. But this is distilled in this basketball scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEY CAME TOGETHER")

PAUL RUDD: (As Joel) Before I propose to Tiffany, I wanted to run it by my buddies that I play ball with at the local playground. They always tell it like it is.

KEN MARINO: (As Tommy) Hey, come on. Are you guys kidding me? The point of love is to get laid if you catch my meaning.

KENAN THOMPSON: (As Teddy) Being married is great. That's the point-of-view I represent. Deb and I've been married for eight years, and it's better now than when we first met.

MARINO: (As Tommy) Swish.

JACK MCBRAYER: (As Oliver) You get it now Mr. Combines-Traits-That-Each-Of-Us-Represents-And-All-You-Need-To-Do-Is-Put-It-All-Together-And-You'll-Be-Just-Fine guy.

RUDD: (As Joel) You know what? You guys make a lot of sense. I'm going to go propose.

MARTIN: (Laughing). Walk us through that scene.

WAIN: Well, there's so much going on actually. That's Paul Rudd playing basketball in the local playground with his friends after work. And, you know, we feel like every rom-com, the guy always has this random group of best friends who he does some big sport with, usually it's basketball. And they have real discussions while also playing basketball at the same time. And then of course each of his friends is a type. And so you have the sort of wistful poet. And then the sex-crazed Lothario. And of course the visual of it, which you're not seeing, is that every time they shoot the ball and Ken Marino says swish, the ball goes not even close to the net. Like it doesn't even go within five feet of the net.

MARTIN: OK. Do you mind if I ask you to defend a certain scene?

WAIN: Yes. And I know what you're going to - I almost...

MARTIN: Do you know?

WAIN: The bartender.

MARTIN: Yes, the bartender scene. So this scene drove me crazy. Is it OK that I say that?

WAIN: I love it.

MARTIN: (Laughing). We should set this up. Paul Rudd is feeling sad and depressed that he and Amy Poehler are having relationship problems. He goes to the bar. And of course, you talk to the bartender. That in and of itself is a rom-com trope. He and the barkeep end up in this verbal back-and-forth, where they're just repeating the exact same sentences over and over and over and over.

WAIN: Right. Well, the bartender says, hard day, huh?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEY CAME TOGETHER")

JOHN RUE: (As the bartender) You look like you've had a bad day.

RUDD: (As Joel) Yeah.

WAIN: And he says, yeah. You can say that again.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEY CAME TOGETHER")

RUDD: (As Joel) You can say that again.

WAIN: And so the bartender says it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEY CAME TOGETHER")

RUE: (As the bartender) Well, you came in here looking like crap, and you haven't said very much.

RUDD: (As Joel) Yeah, tell me about it.

WAIN: And he's like, well...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEY CAME TOGETHER")

RUE: (As the bartender) You came in here looking like crap, and you haven't said very much.

RUDD: (As Joel) Yeah, you can say that again.

RUE: (As the bartender) You came in here looking like crap, and you haven't said very much.

WAIN: Paul Rudd keeps repeating it back and forth - you can say that again and tell me about it, which then causes the bartender to not only say the exact same thing...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEY CAME TOGETHER")

RUE: (As the bartender) You came in here looking like crap and you haven't said very much.

RUDD: (As Joel) Yeah, tell me about it.

WAIN: We actually just splice in the exact same footage of the bartender's response.

MARTIN: OK, I wondered.

WAIN: Over and over. Oh, yeah. No, it's just literally on a loop.

MARTIN: It's a loop.

WAIN: And it's one of these...

MARTIN: I thought there was something wrong with my DVD.

WAIN: Well, you know, it's interesting 'cause I know that in screenings, pretty much every time what happens is, people start laughing. Then they get annoyed. Then they stop laughing. Then it keeps going. And they start laughing all the harder. And it becomes for many the favorite scene of the movie because they're like I can't believe you actually did that. But even in our test screenings, it was - and this happens in every movie. There's always that one scene that is at the top of both lists of what was the audience's favorite scene, and what was the audience's least favorite scene.

MARTIN: And does that please you?

WAIN: It does.

(LAUGHTER)

WAIN: It means that there's passion. And I'm very happy with that.

MARTIN: The new film is called "They Came Together," directed and written by David Wain. He joined us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City. David, thank you so much for taking the time.

WAIN: Oh, my pleasure. Anytime.

NEARY: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.