Watching this movie, it occurred to me how far The State has come. And more importantly, it occurred to me how far I’ve come in fully appreciating them. Looking back on this review I wrote seven years ago, I don’t think I got it. Granted, The Ten was not the group’s best movie; WHAS still holds that title. But I wasn’t fully willing to let the perfect absurdity wash over me when I took that film in. Now I’m willing, now I’ve seen enough of the group’s stuff, now I’m fully invested in their humor. It’s taken me awhile, and maybe some people are turned off by the fact that it takes a little effort to get into something. (Breaking Bad, anyone?) I get that. It’s not for everyone. But it’s definitely for me.
David Wain and Michael Showalter and/or some combination thereof of The State have only gotten better with age. Their beloved TV show, the aforementioned WHAS, these were grainy pieces of genius, but they were still grainy. They got no love, no budget, no support, no fans in the moment it was all happening. That’s not really the case anymore. They Came Together shows just how much production values have changed for these guys, and just how shiny the cast list can get. Yet this may not be the movie the general public were expecting. Those factors may have attracted a new audience — one that, say, knows and loves Amy Poehler as an SNL star and Leslie Knope, or knows and loves Paul Rudd as the hot guy from Clueless and every other movie until the end of time, but isn’t necessarily prepared for the bizarre brand of comedy that the State boys and girl bring. They have a tendency to leave you wanting more zany, more crazy, more absurd, and yet completely satisfying you with the level of subtlety and unexpected crudeness. It’s a complicated, unresolved set of emotions to carry around with you after watching a movie. Maybe it could be smoother. (It wouldn’t be a State joint, though.)
They’re really good at parody, as you might know from WHAS or the very recent Burning Love, but they’re even better at creating something new and disturbing within a parody. They Came Together in particular takes a very pointy stab at romantic comedies, and When Harry Met Sally in particular, the references to which were mostly lost on me because it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen Meg Ryan fake an orgasm. Anyway, Paul Rudd is Joel and Amy Poehler is Molly, and the movie describes the way they meet as plainly and boringly as possible, with pokes at the stereotype of the corporate guy and the clutzy girl. The cosmic joke of watching two very hot people do very stupid, normal things is not lost in this movie, either; it’s hilarious to watch two talented actors play dumbed-down versions of romantic comedy leads, because they probably had to work harder to seem cheesier. They’re that good. (“I like fiction books!”) This movie also does the courting montage very well, and the lingering-look-as-the-person-leaves-through-a-door even better. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Joel and Molly fall asleep after a night of presumed passionate sex, only to wake up fully clothed. I saw it coming, and I still loved it. It sort of hits a sensitive spot, too; why did I spent so many hours of my adolescent life taking in these 90-minute packages of lies? I could have been watching reruns of, say, The State.
The disturbing part of parody I mentioned before? Well, how about Christopher Meloni’s character, Roland, wearing a onesie costume at a Halloween party and shitting himself, and then causing a scene about shitting himself? Or Joel maybe sort of seducing his own Bubby (Lynn Cohen)? Things like this make me laugh the hardest, because they go so deep into the absurd that it’s almost offensive, except that’s the joke. They want that discomfort, and they want you to think about why the movies are so ridiculous, and they want you to question your laughter. They want to work for your laugh, but by making you question your own morals. Again, complicated and unresolved. It is comforting, though, seeing familiar faces like Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Ed Helms, Jack McBrayer, Michaela Watkins, and a slew of other folks from the alt-comedy world, and knowing that they’re all also in on the joke. It — er, they, all come together really well.