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Writer-director David Wain is someone who has found an interesting balance in the comedy landscape. He’s proven to Hollywood that he can successfully merge his unique voice with a big-budget hit like Role Models (2008), while letting his comic id run wild on smaller projects like his web series Wainy Days and the ahead-of-its-time TV show Stella (2005), which he created with his longtime collaborators Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black. For many of Wains’ diehard fans, though, he is most admired for the work he did as one of the original members of the sketch group The State (MTV 1993-95) and the cult classic he later made with his State friends: Wet Hot American Summer, which premiered at Sundance in 2001.
One of the reasons Wain’s new film They Came Together is so highly anticipated is that many signs point to it being Wet Hot-esque: same writing team (Wain and Showalter), similar indie-size budget and freedom, many of the same actors (including stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler) and the same homage-via-parody approach to genre.
This time, however, it’s the romantic comedy genre that Wain and Showalter tackle with the same love and needle they did in the summer camp flicks of the 1980s. Together‘s narrative structure mirrors that of You’ve Got Mail (which was based on the 1940 classic Shop Around the Corner), as Joel (Rudd) plays an executive at a candy store chain that’s threatening Molly’s (Poehler) small candy shop.
Ahead of They Came Together‘s premiere tomorrow night at the Eccles Theatre, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Wain about how the new film finally came together after 12 years, Paul Rudd’s rom-com persona, and his favorite romantic comedies.
THR: You and Michael Showalter wrote this right after Wet Hot American Summer; how did it finally come together?
David Wain: The movie never got made the first time around, but we always had affection for the script. Then in 2012 we got the Wet Hot American Summer cast together for a live “radio show” version at San Francisco Sketchfest. The next morning, we decided to have a casual reading of They Came Together with a lot of the same people, just for fun. It was so fun that we decided to make the movie!
THR: This is one of Lionsgate’s “microbudget” films designed to keep overhead down and to take bigger risks. Did that free you up to be as absurd and/or raunchy as you wanted to be?
DW: Yes. The studio gave us a lot of latitude to make the movie we wanted to, which was a true gift and really the only way this kind of movie can work, in my opinion.
THR: When you say “this kind of movie,” what is it about this particular film that requires the latitude?
DW: I think it has a delicate comic tone that is very easy to screw up. Perhaps this is true of all genres and I’m just sensitive because this is what I do.
THR: The Sundance guide is pitching They Came Together as an homage to the romantic comedy, but is there a healthy dose of parody in there too?
DW: Yes. It’s hard to describe, but I would say it’s a combination of homage, parody, satire and just perhaps an intentionally banal rom-com!
THR: The conventions and formulas that have developed in the genre seem ripe for satire, but are you also someone who genuinely enjoys romantic comedies?
DW: Oh, yes, yes, yes. I love the genre, and I love watching the touchstones of the formula play out in the expected way — just like a James Bond movie or a Law & Order episode. But of course, when it transcends or truly evolves the formula, that’s the most exciting.
THR: What are some of your favorite rom-coms?
DW: Flirting With Disaster, Annie Hall, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Graduate, Say Anything, Tootsie, Crossing Delancey, Moonstruck, Princess Bride.
THR: Did you and Paul Rudd have fun playing with, and against, his well-established rom-com persona?
DW: Absolutely. Paul has played this kind of part in “real” rom-coms. And so I think he had fun skewering that image here. Amazingly, under all the jokes, I still feel invested in the characters and their relationship — which is all due to Paul and Amy brilliantly delivering on both the spoof and “real” elements.
THR: What are your memories of bringing Wet Hot American Summer to Sundance 13 years ago?
DW: I remember it as a blur of a first experience. We brought 30 cast and crew shoved into a rented condo designed for more like 6 people. Lots of hot-tubbing, drinking, dancing and celebrating. The screenings got great response, but we got literally no offers from any distributors. Not one. So that was pretty heartbreaking.
THR: I’m sure you are seeing this at Sundance now — these premiere screenings can seem so life-and-death to young filmmakers. Is Wet Hot, which has developed such a loyal and sizable following, a reminder that if you make a good movie, it’ll eventually find its audience?
DW: I really can only speak for my own experience. I’m happy to say this has happened with Wet Hot; less so — but still growing — with my second Sundance movie, The Ten. But I know many, many movies — some bad and some very good — that never found audiences just by being caught in the musical chairs. There are simply far more movies than can ever find distribution and promotion.
THR: You aren’t going to tell me anything about plans for a Wet Hot American Summer sequel are you?
DW: Exciting announcement are coming very soon.
THR: Your movie is playing late in the festival, leaving you time for movies and parties. Best party, best movie: go.
DW: I’ve seen a lot of movies. Favorites include Laggies, I Origins and Hits. As for parties — it feels like kind of one big ongoing party in and out of Main Street, running into people I’ve known over the last 20-plus years. We had a fun comedy show with Seth Herzog at the Air B&B lounge the other night.
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