Trainwreck is Amy Schumer’s movie (a very good thing), but there’s no mistaking the influence of director Judd Apatow.
Almost without exception, Apatow’s “transgressive” comedies are, at their heart, deeply conservative. For all the naughty bits and ostentatious dancing around the line of decency, things are generally reconciled in the end in the name of family, monogamy, and the need for his man-children to grow up and take on responsibility in their lives. Trainwreck, Amy Schumer’s first feature (which she, rather than Apatow, scripted), ends up in a similar place, and follows some familiar beats, despite featuring a woman-child as its protagonist. But it would be easier to fault the film for laziness on that score if it wasn’t frequently so hilarious, and actually edgy in some places.
Amy Schumer is, well, “Amy,” a journalist at a shameless gossip magazine who harbors bigger dreams for her writing and career. But she’s also – as the film never tires of demonstrating – a fuck-up of enormous proportions in her personal life. A “trainwreck,” if you will.
She drinks too much, smokes too much weed, blacks out and wakes up in strangers’ beds, and generally behaves like an extremely irresponsible college student, despite being quite a few years out of college. A funny scene features a montage of her endless collection of lovers, who she’s constantly juggling and awkwardly managing, and the charmingly goofy opening scene implies this was destined: back in the day, her wayward dad had her and her sister, as children, repeat the phrase, “Monogamy is not realistic” over and over, by way of explaining why their parents no longer live together.
In other words, she’s a bizarro-world Steve Carrell from The 40 Year Old Virgin crossed with Seth Rogen from Knocked Up. You wouldn’t need to squint very hard to guess Apatow was somehow involved with this picture, and that she’ll eventually find love but need to learn a few things in order to realize it. But I won’t spoil anything.
In any case, she goes on assignment for the magazine to cover Aaron, a famous sports doctor (Bill Hader), which the film hilariously presumes is a thing that happens. Aaron is also good friends with basketball superstar Lebron James, who Amy fails to recognize at all. (Another good bit follows when she’s asked her favorite teams, and responds with a series of gibberish-based franchises.)
Do they fall in love? Do you need to ask? The Amy/Aaron romance is the weakest aspect, seemingly shoehorned in to give everyone something to do – Schumer and Hader have great comic chemistry, but romantic? Not so much. This would seem to be a big problem, since it’s the plot, but really it’s a contrivance to hang Schumer’s gags on, and those gags work more often than not. A few jokes fell with an audible thud in the theater, but others had the audience doubled over. (Important note, though: I think the audience was full of stoned Schumer fans who were only too ready to laugh, and that proved infectious.)
Trainwreck is interesting for another reason, though, apart from some solid jokes. By inserting Schumer into the traditionally male Apatow formula, the movie ends up with some actually transgressive moments. Where Seth Rogen and crew would trot out some dick jokes and mock gay-panic, Schumer has a bit involving tampons that kills, and that alone made it different. In another clever move, James, as Aaron’s sidekick, is playing what would traditionally be the best girlfriend role, protective of his friend and skeptical of this newcomer and her motivations. The Hader/James scenes work, too, especially a chat on romance they have while playing one-on-one basketball. (James, it turns out, is better at basketball than Bill Hader, but the scene marches along as though they don’t notice.) In fact, James gets some big laughs (please don’t do a new Space Jam, Lebron), as does SNL’s Vanessa Bayer, continuing the Cleveland love, as Schumer’s goofily excitable confidante.
Schumer’s been accused of hipster racism on her popular TV show, and there’s some of that here, unfortunately. But there are also inspired comic asides, like when Aaron asks if she has any Black friends and then asks to see a picture on her phone; she scrolls through until she finds a waitress pouring a glass of water in a restaurant selfie she took. It’s not the most profound critique, but it shows a level of amusing self-awareness of her character’s obliviousness.
It’s also certainly refreshing to see a female protagonist who doesn’t look like a model and yet still gets laid all the time, and is allowed to have a number of faults and distinguishing aspects. She’s a comic exaggeration, but she’s still recognizably human, which is more than you can say for many representations of women in U.S. movies.
In the end, Trainwreck lives and dies on its laughs. Is it indifferently directed, in the traditional Apatow mode? Definitely. Is it a series of gags and one-liners strung together around a loose, familiar narrative? Sure. Is it funny? Yes, it’s very funny.