Film director David Wain’s work has always been hard to describe. In some ways, it’s straight-up spoof: His most famous film, Wet Hot American Summer, lampooned the summer camp films of the 1980s; and his more recent TV show, Childrens Hospital, sends up shows like Grey’s Anatomy, where the female lead is living inside an inner monologue.
Now, Wain’s newest film, They Came Together, takes on the genre of rom-coms. But even he has a hard time describing it. He tells NPR’s Rachel Martin, “One very shorthand way I’ve come up with is to say it’s a purposefully dumb romantic comedy, or a purposefully terrible romantic comedy. But that could really scare people away, so I don’t want to say that. … Another way to say that is it’s a grand, huge, funny, crazy spoof movie in the tradition of movies like Airplane.”
Wain tells Martin about his feelings toward rom-coms, brazenly copying from You’ve Got Mail, and the most divisive scene in his new film.
On whether there’s a part of him that likes romantic comedies
There’s all of me that absolutely loves, loves, loves rom-coms. It’s probably my favorite genre of movies. … So many of my favorite movies are rom-coms of sorts, whether it’s all the Woody Allen movies or Tootsie or The Graduate. And then, when you get to understand something really well, you also find all the flaws, and that’s a lot of what we’re having fun with in this movie.
On the parallels between Wain’s film and You’ve Got Mail
One of the main through lines we just brazenly lifted from You’ve Got Mail. Amy Poehler plays the quirky, you know, independent candy store owner. And then Paul Rudd is an executive at the huge, corporate Candy Systems and Research, and they’re gonna take her down. But then they meet otherwise. So it is like You’ve Got Mail in that way, but the truth is that the story is so beside the point. If you talk about this movie by talking about the storyline, then you’ve missed the point.
On the layers of jokes in the film’s basketball scene
Well, there’s so much going on, actually. [It’s] Paul Rudd playing basketball in the local playground with his friends after work. And, you know, we feel like [in] every rom-com the guy always has this random group of best friends who he does some big sport with — usually it’s basketball — and they have real discussions while also playing basketball at the same time.
People never just talk; they have to be doing something.
And then, of course, each of his friends is a “type.” So you have the sort of wistful poet, and then the sex-crazed, you know, Lothario. And of course, the visual of it … is that every time they shoot the ball and Ken Marino says “swish,” the ball goes not even close to the net. Like, [it] doesn’t even go within 5 feet of the net.
So it’s actually a good example of every scene in our movie filled with like four or five different layers of jokes.
On the scene in which Rudd’s character, who is depressed about his relationship problems, has a conversation with a bartender
Well, the bartender says, “Hard Day, huh?”
[Rudd] says, “Yeah, you can say that again.”
And so the bartender says it again.
[Bartender: “Well, you came in here looking like crap and you haven’t said very much.”
Rudd: “Tell me about it.”
Bartender: “You came in here looking like crap and you haven’t said very much.”
Rudd: “Yeah, you can say that again.”]
Paul Rudd keep[s] repeating, back and forth, “You can say that again” and “Tell me about it,” which then causes the bartender to not only say the exact same thing — we actually just splice in the exact same footage of the bartender’s response over and over. … It’s just literally on a loop. …
It’s interesting because I know that in screenings, pretty much every time, what happens is people start laughing, then they get annoyed and stop laughing. Then it keeps going and they start laughing all the harder, and it becomes, for many, the favorite scene of the movie because they’re like: I can’t believe you actually did that. But even in our test screenings, it was one — and this happens in every movie — there’s always that one scene that is at the top of both lists of what was the audience’s favorite scene and what was the audience’s least favorite scene.
On whether the scene’s distinction as the audience’s favorite and least favorite scene pleases him
It does. It means that there’s passion. And I’ve always felt that way. And most of the work that I have done over my career has been that. … It’s their favorite thing, or they really hated it. And the middle ground is not so much what we get, and I’m very happy with that.