I’m not nearly as familiar with Amy Schumer’s work as I probably should be. I only know her from the quotations I’ve read on Facebook and a few of the Comedy Central Roasts she’s done. But as far as I can tell, she seems like a very smart comedienne with a neatly progressive sense of humor who looks good while steadfastly rejecting the impossible Hollywood standard of beauty. The notion that such a woman could gain such tremendous success is a trend that I wholeheartedly approve of.
So here’s Trainwreck, a movie written by and starring Schumer. Judd Apatow is directing and producing, though it bears remembering that the man who used to be Hollywood’s most in-demand comedy director is now on the other side of Funny People and This is 40. Still, he and Schumer evidently have enough star power between them that they could wrangle a cast full of SNL alumni, professional athletes, and a whole bunch of other celebrities who beg the question of what the fuck they’re doing here.
Anyway, Schumer plays a character conveniently named Amy. She writes for a magazine that’s a very overt parody of the lifestyle tabloids written specifically to drain IQ points and shame their readers. This attitude is personified by Amy’s boss (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton), a soulless harpy who seems to live for passive-aggressively tearing down everyone around her. Randall Park and Jon Glaser play Amy’s male coworkers, without a single brain cell or vertebra between them. Former psychopath-turned-superhero Ezra Miller plays your typical bright-eyed and empty-headed teenage intern.
(Side note: I only just now remembered that this is a reunion for Swinton and Miller after We Need to Talk About Kevin. Which makes their scenes together fucking hilarious in retrospect.)
Last but not least is Nikki (Vanessa Bayer) the best friend/coworker character. It’s hard to tell if she’s a commitment-phobic nymphomaniac the same way Amy is, or if she’s just going with the flow and agreeing to whatever Amy says. Which brings me to the hook of the film.
Amy is a very devoted bachelorette. She drinks, she gets high, and she goes home pretty much every night with a different guy. I couldn’t tell you why she sleeps around, because she obviously doesn’t have an ounce of affection for anyone she takes to bed and her one-night stands (the ones we see, anyway) look comically bad. The best working theory (presented later in the movie) is that Amy only sleeps around with total losers because they’re so much easier to dump. Nothing is gained and nothing is lost. Easy.
It’s also implied that Amy takes after her father. In a prologue, we learn that Amy’s dad (played by Colin Quinn) is getting a divorce due to his rampant infidelity, and subsequently drills it into his daughters’ heads that monogamy isn’t realistic. Flash forward to the present day, when MS has forced him into a nursing home. So not only is he dying, but he’s still relentlessly homophobic, racist, and all-around bitter. Guy clearly loves his family, but it’s tough for anyone to love him back because he never has a kind word for anyone. He seems to very deeply believe that nothing good ever lasts, so bracing people for disappointment is his idea of cheering them up. And of course, he was such a rampant alcoholic that Amy and her sister were pretty much entirely raised by their mother anyway.
This brings us to Kim (Brie Larson), Amy’s younger sister. She was somehow able to buck her dad’s teachings and enter a very happy monogamous marriage. She even has a stepson (Allister, played by Evan Brinkman), though Kim loves him like her own blood and she’s got an earful of pain waiting for anyone who implies that she isn’t his Mother. Anyway, it seems like Kim has a perfectly happy family life, even if Allister and his father (Tom, played by Mike Birbiglia) seem a little too happy and cheery to be entirely sane. Then again, we’re seeing them from Amy’s perspective, and it’s possible that she only finds them disgusting because the whole concept of marital bliss is abhorrent to her.
Then Amy gets an assignment to write an article about Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a doctor who specializes in surgeries for professional athletes. Things progress well enough until — against all odds and probably against their better judgment — Amy and Aaron strike up a relationship. Standard rom-com hijinks ensue.
Two things spring immediately to mind about the plot. First is that it has a rambling sort of nature, going in so many different directions without a real rush to get to any particular conclusion. In fact, there were a few times when I wasn’t sure if the film knew what or where the conclusion even was. But then there’s my second point: Though the plot may not have much in the way of direction or momentum, the filmmakers still made damn sure to hit all the usual romcom cliche check boxes. Fights, breakups, and resolutions all happen at the mandated times, conveniently made possible by Amy’s myriad drug problems, relationship issues, and her growth in getting past them.
But of course, the plot isn’t the star here. No, anyone who comes to this movie will be going for the comedy. So let’s talk about that.
First of all, given the premise, it should come as no surprise that crude humor is the order of the day. Amy’s drug and alcohol addictions lend themselves to some humor on those subjects, though Aaron’s profession lends itself to a fair bit of bodily humor as well. We’ve also got scenes with Amy’s dad in the nursing home, providing jokes about old people and jokes about bigotry to offend just about everybody.
However, since the story primarily focuses on Amy’s rampant sex life, that’s where the comedy tends to focus as well. Amy’s outspoken nature — especially around anyone she considers too uptight — means that she is not the least bit afraid to talk about her sexual misadventures at great length to the hilarious shock of everyone within shouting distance. We also get a few sex scenes that are made to look grotesque in how outrageously awkward they are.
Nudity of course comes with the territory, but here’s a twist: It’s all male nudity. There are a ton of naked male backsides in this picture, and not a single female nude to be seen. Considering that any other film would have it the other way around, I’m personally okay with that. After all, it’s a natural and harmless consequence of a more progressive attitude toward women in cinema, so why not? And anyway, I’m sure there are some viewers out there who’d jump at the chance to see John Cena naked, and far be it from me to begrudge them that.
Which brings me to the celebrity cameos. There are so many and they’re all so hilarious that I don’t dare spoil any more of them than necessary. Most of them are sports-related, owing to Aaron’s profession, and I honestly didn’t expect professional athletes to be so funny. Then again, it helps that the athletes are mostly called upon to make fun of themselves. Whether it’s to make fun of their appearance, their profession, or their public persona, all of the appearing celebrities are humbly game to look like total asses by simply working with subjects they already know all too well.
(Side note: The one exception was Method Man. When I found out that he was in this movie and who he was playing, I did such a hard double-take that I could swear something in my brain went “pop”.)
This is a huge part of why the comedy mostly works so well across the board: Every single person in the cast looks comfortable. The plot can be contrived at times, sure, but it works because not a single performance or line of dialogue feels forced. The humor can be awkward, the jokes can be offensive, and the comedy can be outrageously over-the-top, yet the actors keep everything on the rails because it looks like they’re having a good time. These comedians are simply doing what they do best, and that lends enough confidence to sell just about any joke.
The direction and the editing help a great deal as well. The movie has a lot of those awkward, rambling, seemingly improvised exchanges that I hate so very much, but it works here because those scenes were broken up into bite-sized chunks. I get the strong impression that the actors went ahead and made stuff up on the fly for however many hours before Apatow and his crew of three editors swooped in and compiled the best moments into a tightly packed scene that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Though there are few prolonged bits of dialogue that made me want to fill my ears with hot wax, pretty much every improvised exchange is over in seconds rather than minutes, the better to move on and ramble about some other subject.
Of course, the film has its more dramatic moments, and those go over quite well, too. Amy Schumer does a halfway decent job of carrying her more tearjerking scenes, though I’m sure it helps that she’s acting against such proven dramatic talents as the male lead of The Skeleton Twins and the star of Short Term 12.
All told, I thought that Trainwreck was okay. I’ve never been very partial to the rambling half-improvised style of comedy that Apatow made popular, and there’s a bit too much shock humor here for my taste. Nevertheless, the humor and the drama are both effective enough for a passing grade. Moreover, Schumer has proven herself to be a very bold comedian with a strong feminist agenda, and we could absolutely use more of both in mainstream cinema.
This won’t be the film to revolutionize the romantic comedy genre, but its existence is nonetheless a sign of something positive. And while it may not be anything more than an entertaining yet ultimately forgettable way to pass a couple of hours, there are certainly worse things.
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