“Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” so goes the old adage. It’s harder for women, surely, who aside from just trying to make audiences laugh must also contend with the endless, if ridiculous, “women aren’t funny” pontifications that continue to murmur in our current think-pieced-to-death culture. Amy Schumer, as a stand-up comic, actress and writer, mixes her naturally very funny gifts with lacerating plays of misogyny and gender politics astoundingly well on her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer. On the series, Schumer regularly and remarkably demonstrates the hypocrisy and nonsense of our post-feminist times- pointedly in a recent segment, a parody of 12 Angry Men, put Schumer on trial over whether or not she was “hot” enough to be on TV. At a time when Kevin James can be a movie star, Schumer’s brand of humor is greatly needed. With that, eyes turn to Trainwreck, a comedy written and starring Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), perhaps as more of a movement than a movie.
As movie, Trainwreck is consistently and often uproariously funny. As a call for arms, well, that’s not what this movie is ultimately and that’s okay. In the film, Schumer plays Amy, a seemingly happy, independent woman in her early 30s. She works as a writer at a men’s magazine called S’Nuff (brilliant)- think a sleazier GQ with articles that include “The Ugliest Celebrity Children Under 6″ and “Are You Gay, or Is She Just Boring?”- and enjoys carefree nights on the town. And sex. Lots and lots of sex with multiple partners. Raised on the mantra passed down from her father from a very young age that “monogamy isn’t realistic,” commitment isn’t her thing. Early on, it’s refreshing to see a female character in a movie seemingly so at ease with her sexuality, so knowingly aware of her desires and untethered to the notion that being in a sustainable relationship is the most important thing in the world.
With that, comes a bit of frustration. Firstly, while Amy (the character, not the performer) enjoys many sex partners- including a principle “buddy” in the affably dim muscle lug Steven (WWE star John Cena, surprisingly effective)- there’s a sense that she doesn’t actually seem to be enjoying any of the sex herself. The sex scenes at the start of the film are mostly played for laughs, but there’s nary a hint of actual satisfaction and a slight tinge of slut shaming. Secondly, things becomes more complicated with the arrival of Aaron (Bill Hader), a mild-mannered sports doctor (LeBron James shows up as wingman and confidante displaying nimble comic timing) and seemingly perfect-in-every-way man who becomes infatuated with Amy and thus begins to change her ideas of monogamy.
Swiftly, Trainwreck starts to follow romantic comedy dogma. It’s in keeping with Apatow’s track record- The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, as cheerily smutty as they are, end with happily-ever-after couplings however improbable or unexpected and This Is 40 is prudently pro-monogamy- yet feels a bit contradictory from the thesis Schumer starts from. Amy is initially (and much to her sports-indifferent chagrin) tasked with interviewing Aaron (who also moonlights with Doctors Without Borders) for an upcoming piece. The trope of interviewer and subject coupling has long been in the romantic comedy mold- think It Happened One Night all to way to Chris Rock’s Top Five of just last year- so it’s of little surprise when late night drinks turn into sex. To Amy’s surprise, Aaron is smitten. While the relationship between Amy and Aaron is surprisingly grounded and challengingly probed (Hader, so strong in drama The Skeleton Twins last year, is instantly likable), yet there’s a quiet sense of unease when the point coalesces that Amy had it wrong; she just hadn’t meet the right guy yet.
This may be movie envisioned by Schumer the entire time- a hilarious parody of Woody Allen’s Manhattan nearly justifies that entirely- or it may have been compromised slightly by Apatow’s intervening. Blessedly (or perhaps not so, considering like all of Apatow’s previous works, Trainwreck suffers a bit from a bloated running time), Schumer has created a full character in Amy. Scenes showcasing Amy at work are a hoot- mostly thanks to a barely recognizable Tilda Swinton, who is clearly having a ball playing Amy’s apathetic, overly tanned editor- and scenes revolving around Amy’s family have a quiet, lived-in gracefulness. There’s involving and sometimes very moving work between the interactions of Amy and her sister Kim (Brie Larson), a happily married woman with a young step-child, representing a counterpoint to Amy’s commitment phobia. And even good stuff in Amy’s relationship with her father Gordon (a surprisingly good Colin Quinn), a difficult grump (and a racist, womanizing grump to boot) who is battling MS. In the end, Amy’s life was interesting enough without the need for a boyfriend.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
While somewhat a mixed bag on terms of tone and execution- Apatow’s style has always been a bit shaggy and bloated- Trainwreck is still a seriously funny piece of work and highly recommended. If nothing else, the movie offers the pleasures of luxuriating in the company of the hilariously frank Amy Schumer. Even as the movie begins to trod the overly familiar romantic comedy path, Schumer offers amusing and thoughtful asides along the way. More so, she has created a remarkably round and wonderfully challenging character her first time at bat. That alone calls for an encore.