Does Bradley Cooper haunt the makers of Wet Hot American Summer? You know, two-time Oscar nominee, ex-sexiest man alive Bradley Cooper, who made his film debut having gay sex in a shed in his tube socks.
“A lot of times I’m sleeping and I hear a noise,” says that cult classic’s director David Wain, whose new movie, a parody of romantic comedies called They Came Together, premiered at Sundance. “And I look out and I see something. And then I’m pretty sure it was Bradley Cooper in a ghost costume. And he’s scattering away. The only reason I know it’s him is because when he gets into a limo and the license plate says Cooper.”
“Is it a Mini Cooper that he’s driving away in?” asks Paul Rudd, the non-threatening and vaguely Jewish leading man in the movie.
“It’s a stretch Mini Cooper limousine,” says Jason Mantzoukas (Rafi from The League), who plays the incorrigible best friend.
“Do you think he’s ever going to be inducted to the baseball hall of fame?” says Max Greenfield (Schmidt from New Girl,) who says things like “Oh for Pete’s sake big brother!”
“Wait, are you suggesting that Bradley Cooper may have died? And is potentially a specter in our lives?” says Mantzoukas.
“Well that’s The Daily Beast for you,” Amy Poehler, the klutzy but adorable leading lady, chimes in. “I mean typical.”
“Oh no,” says Mantzoukas, “Don’t get into Poehler versus The Daily Beast.”
“You know, it’s like, a little more Daily, a little less Beast,” Poehler jokes.
This exchange with the cast of They Came Together could actually work as dialogue in the film. The movie, which will release in June, is more Airplane! than Wet Hot American Summer. The jokes are relentless, often absurd. No cliché is safe: man and woman don’t click at first; mean candy corporation wants to put tiny shop out of business; loser can’t find love; the insufferably hot New York City pulsates through the film. Characters say things like “Hey, you’re my best friend,” and “The only thing I’m committed to is my commitment issues.”
Like the worst (and often unintentionally best) moments of ‘90s romantic comedies, the camera hangs for an extra beat, catching an actor’s all-too sincere smile. In one scene when Poehler storms out of dinner, Rudd returns to the table and says, “Well, I’ll have what she’s having.” Mantzoukas, in an improvised line, tells Rudd that he is actually having what she’s having: the beans, the lentils—it’s a dinner.
Wain, who reunites with co-writer Michael Showalter, penned the first script for They Came Together in 2001. Since then, he’s made more conventional films like Role Models and Wanderlust, and developed the Comedy Central show Children’s Hospital.
The film isn’t for everyone. As one reviewer put it, if you think the title is funny, then this movie is for you. (Gags include a man in a really tight superhero costume having a bout of diarrhea, a Norah Jones music video interlude, and a silhouetted acrobatic sex scene actually played by the Pilobolus Dance Theater.) Still, while spoofing the awful tropes of romantic comedies, They Came Together doesn’t feel cynical.
“Paul and I were really trying to play it somewhat real,” says Poehler. “I was in a movie called Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and I drew from some of that. I played a young woman with Tourette’s syndrome.”
“When you’re doing something that’s just so silly you don’t want to comment on the humor while you’re playing it,” says Rudd. “You know, play it real.”
They Came Together actually premiered after the festival’s closing film. It was called the “after party” film. And the audience, who went wild for Rudd as he took his seat in the theater, holding cell phones high and snapping pictures, howled with laughter for the entire 80-minute runtime.
“I do think the ace in the hole of this movie is that it’s such a joke, and yet Paul and Amy’s actual charisma and chemistry genuinely shines through,” says Wain.
He’s right. If you didn’t know any better—like many of those in line for the premiere who had just seen the poster—at first glance you’d think They Came Together was a serious romantic comedy. For a genre that really hasn’t had a great film in years, you almost wish that were true. Almost.