(USA TODAY) Romantic comedies are easy targets for spoofing.
In fact, some of them feel like tired parodies of themselves in their slavish adherence to formula.
They Came Together (*** out of four; rated R; opens Friday in select cities) amiably skewers the conventions in ways that are irreverent, amusingly fast-paced and broadly hilarious.
Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) are an extreme version of the kinds of couples that are a staple of conventional rom-coms.
Molly's a clumsy, good-natured goofball who owns a candy store that's about to be swallowed up by a conglomerate. All the proceeds from her adorably tiny shop go to charity — when she isn't simply giving away her tasty treats.
Joel is an exec at the faceless Candy Systems Research. He's still hung up on his ex-girlfriend Tiffany (Cobie Smulders) even though she barely professes neutrality toward him. Even when she's clearly in bed with another man, Joel is moronically clueless.
When Joel and Molly are set up by friends at a Halloween party, their initial reaction is aversion, intensified by professional antipathy. But clearly they're meant for each other — they each go as Benjamin Franklin to the party.
The film is framed with the couple telling the saga of how they met to an inordinately patient pair of friends (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper). At a certain point these pals clearly want to hear no more, but Molly and Joel persist in telling every sordid detail. Some of the dinner comments are wonderfully sardonic and punctuate a series of vivid flashbacks.
Joel and Molly have big dreams, medium-sized commitment issues and a mutual affection for Q-tips. And the glue that seals the deal? The shocking confession that both love "fiction books." (Neither has ever met another person who has such a love of fiction!)
Not really the corporate takeover type, Joel yearns to open a little coffee shop with the name "Cup of Joel." Molly, of course, encourages him to follow his dreams.
The film has the feel of a Saturday Night Live segment gone into overtime. While the concept grows repetitive and the connective tissue between scenes is inconsistent, some very funny gags materialize. The substantial chemistry between Poehler and Rudd, among the most likable comic actors around, transforms sometimes thin material into something worth watching.
The film's most engaging character is not actually human: It's Manhattan, of course, a point made repeatedly over that protracted dinner by the voluble lovebirds.
Though the film meanders, director/co-writer David Wain and writing partner Michael Showalter clearly have a grudging affection for Nora Ephron screenplays such as You've Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally.
They Came Together will likely appeal to rom-com fans as much as to those who find such films annoyingly clichéd.