They Came Together


They Came Together (2014) is a spoof on the romantic comedy genre, directed by David Wain and co-written with Michael Showalter. Although constantly spoofing, the film is made with a deep-down love for the romantic comedy genre; it’s 83 minutes of laugh-after-laugh all in the spirit of good ‘ole fun.

They Came Together tells the story of Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) as they are sharing the story of how they met to their friends one night at dinner, Kyle (Bill Hader) and Karen (Ellie Kemper). Joel and Molly preface their love story as a really corny romantic comedy, and, boy, does it live up to that. It begins with a You’ve Got Mail foundation, with Rudd being the charming and charismatic leading man, oozing handsome smiles all over the place, who works in the evil candy empire that is threatening to bankrupt Molly’s small and community-friendly neighborhood candy shop (Poehler and Rudd working in candy companies screamed Leslie Knope, Bobby Newport, and Sweetum’s from Parks and Recreation). Molly is the classic strong and in-your-face type who’s clumsiness and compulsive qualities are endearing. Almost every romantic comedy trope and stereotype could be found in this film: overhead shots of Ney York City, holiday gatherings to introduce single friends to each other, incredibly passionate and rambunctious nights of love-making, meeting the parents, breaking up and getting back together over and over again, a mad dash to stop a wedding, getting back with an ex, montages of couples falling in love in the city, marriage proposals, hate-at-first-sight — they even managed to fit in a montage of the leading lady trying on various outfits to impress her man. Because the film is so fast-paced, all this and more is able to fit into a film that’s a little under 90 minutes long. Each trope and stereotype has Wain’s unique and hysterical twist on it, making for constant laughs.

The film hardly has a story — but it doesn’t need one; the point isn’t to have a story. The film is perpetuated by laughs and jokes. The pacing is very quick, joke after joke after joke, and while there are a few misses, most land perfectly. Laying out tons of the jokes, the leads — Rudd with his myriad of close-up smiles and Poehler with her clumsy yet likeable antics — are supported by an incredible cast. Jason Mantzoukas is the goofy and loyal best friend to the leading man; Cobie Smulders is the unfaithful and vapid ex-girlfriend of and constant temptress to Joel; Max Greenfield is the leading man’s little brother who offers up “jewels” of wisdom (with whom Joel has a tangential family crisis which is yet another romantic comedy antic); Teyonah Parris is the sassy co-worker (and possibly only other employee) at Molly’s small business; Ed Helms is the nice guy who is clearly wrong for Molly yet still manages to procure an unenthusiastic “yes” to his marriage proposal; Christopher Meloni is Joel’s boss, the token idiot turned up a few notches; and perhaps the most important supporting character: New York City.

This movie takes inspiration from great spoof and parody films such as Airplane! and Blazing Saddles. It’s 83 minutes of fun and laughs, if you’re open to not taking anything seriously. They Came Together has a solid and hysterical screenplay by Wain and Showalter and it’s brought to life by a crazy-strong comedic cast. Even though they’re making fun, you can’t help but root for Molly and Joel to get together. And even though Rudd is flashing a ton of fake, laugh-inducing smiles, you get a little weak in the knees each time.

I was fortunate enough to see They Came Together at the Music Box Theatre as part of the Chicago Film Critics Film Festival. David Wain was the special guest and introduced the film and let a Q&A afterwards, which was as hysterical as it was fascinating. They Came Together comes out to select theatres on June 27, 2014. It will be at the Music Box Theatre, so please check your local theatres and check out this film if it’s in your area!

The Avengers


The Avengers (2012) is an epic superhero film written and directed by Joss Whedon. It is an origins story, following the events of S.H.I.E.L.D to develop The Avengers Initiative, which leads to the coming together of The Avengers. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and is the third-highest-grossing film, over $1 billion.

The expectations for the film were nothing shy of brilliant once Joss Whedon was announced as director for The Avengers. An avid comic book fan and an amazing writer, the coming together of multiple superheroes into one film was in very good hands. Whedon has commented on The Avengers as a group, saying: “These people shouldn’t be in the same room let alone on the same team—and that is the definition of family.” He delves deeply into that sentiment in the film, exploring the conflicts between strong personalities and haughty egos. Whedon is well-known for fleshing out characters, and that’s the most interesting part of this film. He makes the joining forces of these various superheroes feel real and believable. Most of the film is set up as scenes with pairs of characters, which gives the actors a chance to perform with different personalities as well as the audience the chance to see the characters interact with everyone. Examples of this include: 1) when Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) meeting with Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in India to convince him to answer S.H.I.E.L.D’s call for help or 2) when Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fight each other to (try to) show their dominance over the other. These scenes are incredible because they show a side to the characters that aren’t seen very often in these characters’ solo films. Tony Stark is always in charge in his films, but now he has to work together with others. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is the ultimate soldier but has to come to terms with the fact that everybody he’s ever known or cared for is dead and learn to interact with people “of the future”. The way Whedon creates these scenes is insightful, as it deconstructs the illusion that groups of superheroes, like The Avengers or the Justice League, would automatically come together in selflessness for the greater good. Egos must be thrown aside (in Stark’s case) and personal conflicts must be embraced (in Banner’s case) in order to work together. The basic goal for these scenes is for Whedon to show the journey for the characters to build trust, for trust will be the most important force linking their chain together.

Another classic Whedonism found in The Avengers is the witty banter and clever writing. The film’s popularity and high praise has a lot to do with the writing, elevating the “superhero genre” up to match various other genres in terms of quality and artistry.
On the topic of classic Whedonisms, Black Widow’s character must be discussed. Whedon has created a myriad of strong female characters, including Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Echo in Dollhouse (Eliza Dushku), and Zoe Washburn from Firefly (Gina Torres). He promotes and advocates for strong women in media, and he delivers yet again with Black Widow. Her introduction scene has her tied to a chair, being interrogated by Russian criminals. She appears to be in a weak and helpless position, as if she were captured and at their mercy. Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) calls the Russian criminals and asks to speak to Romanoff. She talks to him like he’s interrupting her interrogation, not that she’s helpless and in need of saving. He urges her to come in, saying it’s urgent, and she consents. Then, she shows the audience that she was always in control of the situation. She begins a fight, disables the Russian criminals, and walks out calmly, after picking up her heels. This is classic Joss Whedon, who sets up scenes with a particular female stereotype and destroys it right then and there. A classic example is the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A high school boy is taking what appears to be a timid high school girl somewhere private after school hours. She’s hesitant and timid. Whedon sets up that scene as the high school blonde girl who gets herself in a powerless situation, but the high school girl turns out to be Darla (Julie Benz), a vampire who was in fact seducing the high school boy. Black Widow and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are incredibly strong women who are perfectly capable and in control of their situations. Hill does follow orders from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), but she basically runs the organization and makes things happen. Romanoff, like Darla in Buffy, plays around with female stereotypes in an incredible scene with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the film’s big bad and adopted brother to Thor. She’s speaking with Loki, and he begins to simmer in his masculine intimidation, picking apart her intentions as she buckles under the harshness of his words. In his hubris, he lets slip his next move. Immediately, Romanoff resumes her strong posture and stoic face and we realize that she was playing him the entire time. Whedon keeps destroying female stereotypes. With so many modern reboots in popular franchises, there are attempts to modernize female characters who were previously stuck in antiquated female stereotypes, like Uhura in Star Trek. In J.J. Abrams reboot in 2009, the entire cast got a jumpstart, including Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who at times was the catalyst for the plot continuing forward. Unfortunately, half way through the film, Uhura was tossed aside as merely a romantic interest for Spock (Zachary Quinto). While there are teases and hints at something between Romanoff and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in The Avengers, Romanoff’s character place in the group is never diminished or looked down upon. As Johansson has said about her role in The Avengers, she always felt like one of the guys, not the only woman in a group of guys.
Whedon’s vision for The Avengers is a masterful balance of character development and excitement. He blends together a modern realization of his characters with clever writing and a smooth and realistic filming style. He succeeded in bringing together a group of ultra-strong personalities, both in character and in person, while also elevating the “superhero genre” up to challenge other “respected” genres. The sequel, which is will be released in 2015, will no doubt be just as exciting and successful.