New Romantic Comedy is a Few Scenes Short of a Great Ride


Trainwreck-posterAll hail Amy Schumer! I already knew from her sketch comedy show, Inside Amy Schumer, that she can write and that she’s a gifted comedian. She’s now demonstrated that’s she’s talented enough to headline a film and write a crackerjack feature length script.

Trainwreck is directed by Judd Apatow and it feels like it: more on that later But the script is (sorry, Judd!) smarter and funnier than anything Apatow has written. In fact, the pairing of Schumer’s stellar script and Apatow’s direction has given Apatow his best movie to date. And Schumer, in her first major film role, is starting out on top.

This is an old story: the player unwittingly finds the one true love that calls for a reexamined life. Having the player played by a women is a bit less common, but not unheard of. Still, Schumer’s character, also named Amy, is more well-rounded in her decadence than most. Not only does her sex life consist of one night stands – regardless of how much the men would like to make it more than one night – but she is a prolific drinker and openly contemptuous of her younger sister’s monogamous domestic life. She has an ambiguously straight yet devoted boyfriend (John Cena), but her philandering dad drilled into Amy’s head the message that “monogamy isn’t realistic”, and she’s taken the message to heart.

When Amy’s boyfriend finds out that she’s been cheating on him and sorrowfully tells her that he had hoped to marry her, she responds only with a request to end this tiresome conversation. Amy is not a very nice person, basically, but she’s funny and always up for a good time.

trainwreck4Amy works at a men’s lifestyle magazine called S’nuff (think Maxim), where’s she’s assigned an interview with sports medicine doctor to the stars, Aaron Connors (Bill Hader). Connors is a a bit awkward, not much of a ladies’ man, but a genuinely good guy. How good? He’ll soon be given an award by Doctors Without Borders (the movie may be selling his virtue a bit hard).

It doesn’t take much imagination to predict that this odd couple will fall in love. What makes it worth following them down this worn path, though, is that Hader and Schumer are both so skilled, and the script is packed with sharp jokes. Brie Larson and Mike Birbiglia charm as Amy’s solid citizen younger sister and her nice guy husband, and Colin Quinn is effective as Amy’s dad, the tree from which this hard living apple has fallen. Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller are here, as Amy’s self-absorbed co-workers; and Lebron James deserve credit, playing a very comic version of himself.

The trajectory of Trainwreck takes Amy away from both her sexual wandering and her problematic drinking. In fact, some will undoubtedly find the movie’s last act a betrayal of its hedonistic beginning, as Amy settles down and starts behaving herself. But as much I enjoyed Schumer’s depiction of someone with almost no moral compass (her relentless mockery of her sister’s family is ruthless and hilarious), the real raunch was my one great problem with Trainwreck. The only love scene between Hader and Schumer is very restrained by the standards of this movie, perhaps because there’s a hint of the old fashioned romantic somewhere in Schumer and Apatow. The nudity, penis jokes and Cena’s failed attempts at steamy talk early on – and a later scene involving Miller – all seemed more tasteless than really funny (although a conversation in which a horrified Amy envisions accidentally leaving a tampon in Aaron’s toilet manages to find the sweet spot where gross and funny collide).

trainwreck5Apatow directed The 40-Year-Old Virgin andKnocked Up, and this climate, in which kindhearted romances are sold with an increasing amount of crude humor, is in large part his legacy. The gauntlet has been picked up by far less skilled filmmakers, for far less romantic ends (don’t get me started on this year’s Get Hard). I think we’ve long passed the point of diminishing returns, and for those of us who actually think, non-ironically, that subtlety around sex is both fitting and (often) funnier, it can be frustrating. In that sense, Trainwreck is a product of its time and you shouldn’t go see it if, for instance, John Cena wearing nothing but a strategically placed washcloth is a deal breaker for you.

Despite that significant caveat (and a few clumsy jokes about race that seemed out of place in this movie), Trainwreck is largely a win. Hader brings sympathetic gravity to his role, Schumer is surprisingly believable even when she shifts from cynical party girl to a woman in pain, and when it’s not serious (which is most of the time) the script keeps the jokes coming so fast I missed a few because I was still laughing from what had come before. Color me impressed. I predict a great cinematic future for Amy Schumer.