Trainwreck

 

Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larsen, Colin Quinn, LeBron James, Tilda Swinton

Director: Judd Apatow

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

by Jericho Cerrona


If, on the whole, the latest film from Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, This is 40) isn't exactly in bed with it's title, then neither is the central character played by rising comedy star Amy Schumer. As written by Schumer, Trainwreck is little more than a conventional romcom in the Apatow mold (which, is to say, it's shaggy and meandering like a drama and goes for raunchy laughs like a comedy). Conventional romcoms are fine, of course. They serve a functional purpose within our cinematic landscape and when done well, can provide a measure of diverting enjoyment. However, the presence of Schumer (who has blown up as of late courtesy of her brazen standup act and feminist-leaning Comedy Central TV series) suggests a slight deviation from the norm, perhaps even taking the genre into transgressive territory. Unfortunately, while there are surface pleasures to be had throughout Trainwreck, it never reconciles its conflicting interests in a satisfactory way, treating Schumer's character as a cautionary life lesson about the dangers of boozing and casual sex with multiple partners. It's a film which tries to straddle the line between progressive and reactionary, but perhaps due to the presence of white picket fence family man Apatow, dovetails into boring conventionality. It may be the most square film ever that also features a scene of wrestler John Cena talking dirty while performing aggressive pelvic thrusts.

Schumer stars as Amy, a magazine editor at a men's gossip rag who spends most of her time getting drunk and having adult time with a throng of clueless male specimens. The film's early setup seems like a nifty gender role reversal; particularly seeing as one of Amy's first lines, delivered in voiceover narration, is "Don't judge me, fuckers". Arriving on the scene as a foul-mouthed hot mess reaction to the "Cool Girl" or "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" of so many forgettable romcoms, she seems to represent an evolved state of how we should view strong-willed females in 2015, especially in regards to sexuality. An early montage of men getting kicked out after sex gives the character the kind of liberated, "I'm turning the table on the sexes" mentality that's refreshing. Of course, such lifestyle choices affect the strained relationship she has with her sister (a fine Brie Larsen), as well as her father (Colin Quinn), whose languishing in a care home due to his rapidly deteriorating health. There are other pressures too; such as Amy's horrific boss (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton with a glorious fake tan) and an article she's been tasked with writing about popular sports surgeon Aaron Conners (Bill Hader).

There are many problems with Trainwreck structurally, thematically, and in regards to it's point of view, but Schumer's performance isn't one of them. Predictably, she is very good at delivering seemingly off the cuff put-downs and crass zingers, but most surprising is the way she handles more emotionally complex scenes. As an actor, she may have a ways to go in terms of carrying an entire film, but she more than holds the screen here. Hader is also lovable and charismatic in a rather dull role as the nice guy doctor, and there's an easygoing repartee he has with Schumer. Romantic chemistry, however, is largely absent, though that may have more to do with the story's structural failings than the performers themselves. It's also nice to see LeBron James spoofing his image as an inverse of the romcom "best friend" character, even as Apatow seems to go to him for comedic effect a few times too many. This sense of overreaching, of allowing scenes to drag on too long or extraneous characters to have too much screen time, or in the case of John Cena (playing one of Amy's early flings) not enough, is part and parcel of Apatow's aesthetic. Complaining that Trainwreck is too long and baggy by half is pretty much irrelevant at this point, since every Apatow film could be accused of the exact same crimes. The problem here isn't necessarily the length or a lack of focus, but rather that it gives us a possibly progressive female lead character and then has her retreat into the safe confines of domesticity.

Never once does Trainwreck allow Amy to be the empowered, 21st Century woman she claims to be. Instead, her behavior stems from the conventional plot point of having a father with an endless streak of womanizing when she was a child, complete with the mantra of "monogamy isn't realistic". Though her sister has rejected this model, opting for a simple life of marriage and kids, Amy seems to be responding emotionally to the trauma of her parents' split by sleeping around (which, in Apatow's worldview, is synonymous with a fear of intimacy). Of course, the script was written by Schumer, not Apatow, though there is a disconcerting amount of Apatow's instincts at play here in terms of where the story ends up. The film seems to be saying that the alternative to settling down with Hader's soft-hearted lug is a life of empty one-night stands and encroaching alcoholism. This last bit, by the way, is never fully addressed or developed. Amy enjoys drinking, but the film sidesteps the more problematic implications of substance abuse and simply plugs in a montage of her throwing out a collection of empty bottles in order to start anew. Her proclivity for sexual experimentation, too, is grafted on mostly in order to stage a string of uncomfortably awkward sex scenes that's meant to show that deep down, maybe Amy doesn't even really enjoy sex after all.

Trainwreck tapers off some of the more alienating and abrasive edges of Amy Schumer's persona in lieu of fooling the audience into thinking this will be a film that challenges the rampant misogyny of the romcom genre, but it only tiptoes in the right direction when it should be sprinting. Ultimately, this is a movie without the balls to follow through on it's initial convictions, and that's almost worse than simply giving us the same tired routine right from the outset. Still, even the blend of gross-out humor and middling conservative family values that's become an Apatow trademark can't completely knock Amy off her pop culture zeitgeist pedestal. No, Miss Schumer will be just fine.