Tag: david wain

They Came Together

They Came Together (2014)
★ / ★★★★

A parody of the romantic comedy sub-genre through and through, “They Came Together,” written by Michael Showalter and David Wain, for all its jokes and anti-jokes, should have been sharper and thus ought to have been a better movie. With a talented cast capable of wringing out laughter, genuine and uncomfortable, the final product is desultory and generic—just like bad romantic comedies it wishes to skewer. There is no excuse.

Molly (Amy Poehler) is getting over a break-up and owns a quirky candy shop where all proceeds go to charity. Joel (Paul Rudd) has a girlfriend, but one with whom he suspects is not serious at all about their relationship, and is a development executive at Candy Systems and Research—the very corporation threatening to push Molly out of business. Their “corny romantic comedy sort of story” is told over dinner with friends.

Rudd and Poehler share wonderful chemistry together. Half the time, I was thinking how much I would have enjoyed the picture more if it were played out as a straight-faced comedy with all the holes and clichés of meet-cute romance that is completely detached from reality. The two performers look good together during the build-up of scenes but the punchlines come off trying so hard that when a scene ends, we consistently feel robbed of what should be present underneath the jokes: a real, convincing connection between two people.

Romantic comedies are loved by many because the sub-genre often sells a fantasy: That there is a perfect person out there for every one of us. The screenplay fails to target this idea and so it goes on to create silly digressions such as Aryan families and wanting to get physically intimate with grandmother. While surprising and worthy of a chuckle of two, these contribute nothing to the momentum of the story. Just because a movie is a parody, it is not excused from moving in a forward direction with ease. Less than ninety minutes long, its running time feels closer to two hours.

It has the tendency to spell every joke and running gags—as if we were stupid enough to not recognize situations we have seen a hundred times. While very funny the first two times, the trick gets old real quickly and the habit becomes annoying. Is it too much to ask to have us participate? To me, the approach underlines that the writers do not have enough confidence in the material to allow us to decide what is clever and what is plain dumb. That is likely why they feel the need to hide behind a sort of self-awareness so often. After all, it is more of a challenge to critique a work that appears to recognize is flaws.

I enjoyed the jokes in the background, from pictures hanging on the wall (rather, pictures strung together by a piece of yarn) to the extras acting like they have stumbled upon a set of a movie. When I feel like I am trying to catch up with the jokes instead of an alarm going off every time there is supposed to be something funny that we should catch, there is a moment of engagement between viewer and film. Director David Wain can direct. I just wish he can write with a pen instead of a blowtorch. (Since the latter will destroy paper while the former is likely to preserve it… Do you see how annoying it gets when someone feels the need to explain to you when you are fully capable of making inferences?)

Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
★★ / ★★★★

It is the last day of Camp Firewood which means that the camp director, Beth (Janeane Garofalo), and her camp counselors must endure one more day of trying to overcome their feelings for one another. Geeky Coop (Michael Showalter) is finally noticed by salacious Katie (Marguerite Moreau). The only problem is she’s still seeing scatter-brained Andy (Paul Rudd), currently eyeing blonde Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) like a hawk.

Meanwhile, Victor (Ken Marino), known as the stallion of the bunch, looks forward to having sex with sexually unrestrained Abby (Marisa Ryan). Incidentally, he is forced by Beth to take some of the kids to go water rafting, which is a couple of hours away from camp. Beth, too, is attracted to someone, an astrophysicist named Henry (David Hyde Pierce) who later volunteers to entertain the “indoor kids” to impress her.

Written by Michael Showalter and David Wain, “Wet Hot American Summer” is riotously funny when the jokes work but extremely frustrating and annoying when they do not. The characters are supposed to be stereotypes of camp counselors in the movies of the ‘80s so the comedy must be judged on how and if they are used wisely in order to pull off a biting satire. Like reaching into a bag marbles, some are shiny and some are quite dull.

Beth is wonderful as a leader who is required to be everywhere at once. Despite her share of awkward quirks, I believed that she is functional enough to successfully manage the place. But the characters who have only sex on the brain are consistently hit-and-miss.

For instance, the dizzying dance between Coop and Katie goes absolutely nowhere. Every time they share the same frame, I wanted to see more of Andy’s amusing negligence whenever he is around other women. One of the more entertaining scenes involves a kid almost drowning in the lake because Andy is too busy shoving his tongue down a girl’s throat. Coop and Katie do have one funny scene, however, which involves trading clothes while sitting in a barn. The cheesiness of the whole thing is supposed to make us groan because movies from the past try to convince us that wearing someone’s piece of clothing is romantic. It is not romantic when the other person has lice or crabs.

I wished that McKinley (Michael Ian Black) and Ben (Bradley Cooper), gay lovers, had more scenes together. I felt like a lot of the jokes that could have stemmed from the homosexual relationship are held back out of political correctness. The picture does not need to be sensitive especially when it is supposed to be a satire. On the contrary, it must be merciless. I had a similar reaction with the way the attraction between the crafts teacher (Molly Shannon) and one of her students (Gideon Jacobs) is handled

To my surprise, the student-teacher attraction ends up being my favorite “relationship” in the film. It is so wrong yet so hilarious. It is both a shame and a missed opportunity that the screenplay chooses to shy away from polemical topics in order to make room for comedy that is easier to digest.

“Wet Hot American Summer,” directed by David Wain, needs to recognize its strengths and play upon them. Extraneous scenes that are downright stupid and unfunny like characters running from one room to another, screaming, and knocking down breakable objects on purpose need to be excised. In scenes like that, what exactly is being satirized—the writers running out of ideas?


Wanderlust (2012)
★ / ★★★★

George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) thought it was time for them, as a committed couple, to buy their own place in New York City instead of continuing to rent an apartment. After speaking with a consultant, they decided to buy a studio apartment. But when George was fired out of the blue and Linda’s depressing documentary about penguins with cancer was not picked up by HBO, the couple decided to stay with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), in Atlanta, Georgia until they got back on their feet. However, an overnight stay in Elysium Bed and Breakfast, managed by a free-spirited commune, made them consider leading an alternative lifestyle. Written by David Wain and Ken Marino, “Wanderlust” busted out of the cage promisingly due to its underhanded critique of materialism that plagues most of our lives. When George and Linda argued, I bought them as a couple because I immediately got the impression that they loved each other not only for their similarities but also, and perhaps more importantly, their differences. The genuine comedy and drama that propelled our protagonists forward were immediately sucked away when they arrived in the communal settlement. While it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea for the screenplay to introduce the colorful characters and make us laugh to remember each of them, I found that the writing consistently relied on surface qualities to get an emotion–any emotion because pretty much everything that transpired in and around the bed and breakfast was so deathly dull–from us. The nudity and dirty talk, effective when used sparingly paired with great timing, became very predictable and embarrassing. The filmmakers turned so desperate to the point where it actually featured a stampede of naked sagging bodies–in slow motion. It wasn’t funny. In fact, I found it to be quite mean-spirited and cynical. I got the impression that it wanted to disgust us and hopefully mistake that response for amusement. Also, there was a subplot involving a missing deed and businessmen wanting to kick out the community in order to build a casino. A lot of it was noise, annoying chatter that didn’t amount nor lead to anything profound or, in the very least, entertaining. After one flat delivery after another, an actor would overact suddenly and I mentally begged them to stop talking. The worst was performed by Rudd as George attempted to encourage himself in front of a mirror to have sex with another woman (Malin Akerman). And just when I thought the humiliation was over, it flooded onto the next scene until it became as annoying as hearing an empty barrel beating beaten by a child. The most interesting and most overlooked character was Marissa (Michaela Watkins), Rick’s wife, so miserable in being a wife and mother that she’d rather drown herself in booze than to deal with her situation. She was surrounded by so many expensive and gorgeous things but she was far from happy. Unlike most of the one-dimensional characters in the commune, Marissa was amusing without even trying. But there was a sadness in her, too. Notice that no one dared to take her seriously even when she hinted about her misery at home. Why worry about her state of mind when she seemed to have it all, right? “Wanderlust,” directed by David Wain, was a bore almost every step of the way because it didn’t bother to develop the supporting characters who were meant to help George and Linda, in an indirect way, to appreciate what they already had. It was a drag to sit through.

Role Models

Role Models (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I thought I would enjoy this comedy a lot more because my friends highly recommended it. Directed by David Wain, “Role Models” stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as two energy drink salesmen who go to various school to preach that drugs are bad. I liked the humor of the first half more than the second half because the former deals with Rudd’s frustration with his brainless job. His perception of the world contrasts with Scott because Scott actually enjoys his job. When Rudd finally lost it after his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) dumps him after he made a spontaneous (if not ill-timed) wedding proposal, the two are sent to a mentoring center (jail was the alternative) which was led by the fantastically scary, on-the-edge ex-convict played by Jane Lynch. I also liked the dynamics between Rudd and Christopher Mintz-Plasse because the two of them have this inner geekiness that made me smile; while Scott and Bobb’e J. Thompson share a crude sense of humor that made me laugh out loud. What didn’t work for me was the whole thing about the medieval battles that pervaded the second half. I was bored out of my mind because I felt like Rudd and Scott were pushed aside instead of staying on the foreground and do what they do best: providing the audiences jokes that are witty and dirty (sometimes both at the same time). Instead of staying rude and crude, it somewhat took the safer route toward the end. I almost wished that it didn’t have a heart and embraced the dark comedy genre instead. At least that way, the film wouldn’t feel as though it was holding back in order to achieve some commercial success. It’s a shame because it does have funny material and enthusiastic actors but it didn’t quite push through in order to get to the next level. I say only see it if one has nothing better to do.