I’m way behind on reviews, so I’m going to be doubling up on demand reviews for the next couple weeks. Never let it be said that there’s nothing good to watch! Good movies are everywhere, you just have to…sit at home and push a couple buttons. Seriously, it’s never been easier to access quality cinema.
They Came Together
ETA: This movie gets better on repeat viewings.
2001’s Wet Hot American Summer is, as far as I’m concerned, a comedy achievement along the lines of Spinal Tap. It’s not quite Spinal Tap (NOTHING IS SPINAL TAP), but it’s pretty close. Written by Michael Showalter and David Wain, and directed by Wain, Summer is like a time capsule, except it wasn’t memorializing the past but predicting the future. Look at the cast: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper, H. Jon Benjamin (the immortal voice of Sterling Archer) voicing a can of vegetables, Michael Ian Black—it’s a who’s who of today’s top comedy performers and writers. It’s also incredibly funny and actually quite touching.
So it was very exciting when the Summer team got back together for They Came Together, a parody of romantic comedies, particularly ones set in New York City. Once again written by Showalter and Wain and directed by Wain, Together is not Wet Hot American Summer. It’s not as genuine or as consistently funny, but it’s still capable of delivering big laughs from time to time. There are a couple of really big laughs, and a slew of smaller ones, but it’s not the humor where Together stumbles.
The barbs directed at rom-com tropes are all spot-on, but the people never quite click in the same way. It hangs together less as a proper movie and more as a series of connected skits. It’s missing the heart that drove Summer, despite solid performances from Poehler and Rudd, and a scene-stealing turn by Christopher Meloni, another Summer alum. But if you like rom-coms and/or laughing at familiar things, They Came Together will do you fine.
Clark Gregg (Marvel’s Agent Coulson) is a super nice guy. Any time people say that no one in Hollywood is nice, or that it’s impossible for people to make it and remain nice, I point to two people: Mark Ruffalo and Clark Gregg. Easily 60% of the reason I pull for Agents of SHIELD to work out is because Gregg is so nice and he’s hung in for so long, he deserves every break he gets. People who don’t like Clark Gregg probably also like spiders and tooth decay.
So it’s interesting to me, given how genuinely nice he is, that Gregg seems fascinated by moral turpitude. As a filmmaker, he’s responsible for two movies: Choke, an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, and Trust Me, which is available on demand now. He wrote and directed both, and both are mixed bags. Trust Me tells the story of Howard (Gregg), a one-time child actor turned agent to would-be child stars. It’s a fairly ego-less performance as Howard is more failure than man and on his last legs, trying to sign a precocious young actress on the brink of signing onto a Twilight-style teen franchise.
Gregg is a good director of actors and he’s put together a strong cast featuring Allison Janney, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, Amanda Peet, Molly Shannon, Niecy Nash, and Saxon Sharbino (Touch) as Lydia the Would-Be Starlet, who is a stand-out. Gregg manages them well, and the performances are really what make it worth watching. He keeps the story moving at a nice clip and the Hollywood-skewering is on point and makes for some solid comedy but also touches on some fairly depressing aspects of human nature.
But then the third act comes along and things start to fall apart. The plot gets unnecessarily complicated (a problem with Choke, too), and the movie takes a trip into noir territory that doesn’t fit with the earlier established tone. Trust Me feels sharper and more focused when it’s just about shitty people doing shitty things to each other just to be shitty rather than devolving into a mystery-ish double-cross plot. Still, it’s a good showcase for Gregg’s full arsenal as an actor/writer/director, Sharbino comes across as the kind of talent Howard would throw himself into traffic for, plus there’s bonus Sam Rockwell AND bonus Allison Janney. You could do a lot worse over the holiday weekend than Trust Me. …Trust me.