Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, LeBron James, Tilda Swinton, Colin Quinn, Ezra Miller, Evan Brinkman, Mike Birbiglia, John Cena, Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei
R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Funny women have been dominating the comedy landscape in recent years with the likes of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Melissa McCarthy schooling their male counterparts in being strong, talented actors. Trainwreck launches TV sketch comedienne Amy Schumer into that pack with great gusto even if the vehicle in which she’s travelling has as many structural flaws as it does witty rejoinders.
Schumer wrote the screenplay for director Judd Apatow, a man not known for his subtlety or economy. Her keen mind for comedy is bolstered by her seeming unerring timing. This is a woman who clearly did her time on the stand-up circuit where some of today’s attempted titans had no formal training. It’s a ruthless market that only the truly inventive can navigate from, thrive on and build into a viable career. Schumer plays a commitment-phobic woman whose philandering father (Colin Quinn) instilled in her the idea that “monogamy is not realistic.”
Stringing from one hookup to the next, she’s discovers a new aspect of her personality when she meets a famous knee surgeon (Bill Hader) who is familiar with and seemingly practiced in the concepts of monogamy. Together, they wind their way through a dangerous minefield of commitment, fear, failure and success.
Schumer’s gifts as a writer and an actress are not without their issues. While much of her content turns masculine conceits on their heads, ascribing what we typically refer to as male traits to a woman while bending female stereotypes into masculine ones. The change in gender of these common personality types doesn’t impact the story’s relevance, compassion or insightfulness. In fact, upending the norms not only exposes the heterogeneous nature of modern romantic comedies, it helps define, replace and diminish their questionable applicability.
Acting itself isn’t Schumer’s strong suit. While she handles the comic moments with aplomb, several of her more dramatic scenes feel a touch forced. One of the few exceptions is a scene at a funeral where she’s simultaneously humorous and suffused with grief.
Aside from Schumer, it’s interesting to note that three of the non-comedians in the film delivered some of the most outrageous and hilarious moments you can remember. Former wrestler John Cena is both funny and heartbreaking in his handful of scenes as Amy’s semi-serious, on-again-off-again sex buddy; LeBron James plays himself as a busybody trying regularly to get involved in Hader’s character’s love life, hoping to help him succeed in getting together with Amy; and Tilda Swinton, who’s talented in everything she does, as the self-absorbed bitch of a magazine editor whose concern for Amy is entirely superficial.
Compare this to Hader whose occasional low-key moments seem out of place compared to his more energetic scenes; and Mike Birbiglia, who’s utterly wasted in his scenes as Amy’s sister’s (Brie Larson) husband. To be schooled by non-comedians must be a bit galling, or fulfilling however you look at it. The rest of the cast is on point, including Larson as Amy’s monogamy-minded sister Kim; Evan Brinkman as Kim’s son Allister; and Quinn as the sisters’ father.
Getting to the end is incredibly fun, but is filled with fits of tedium. Apatow is one of those directors who seems to think every turn he takes into the dramatic off-sets the comedic by equal parts. Instead, the audience is left patiently waiting through lengthy scenes of dramatic tension that’s neither dramatic or tense. The viewer must wait through the less compelling material to get back to the reason they came to the film in the first place. While both Knocked Up and This Is 40 have a wealth of humor and interest, they are frequently lugubrious pieces that test the audience’s resolve.
This is no fault of Schumer’s script, which with a great deal of tightening from a world class editor who’s not afraid of pushing back on an egotistical director, would have been far more rewarding and significantly shorter in the process. A good director would have also suggested that the modestly unnecessary office scenes with inept magazine writers played by Randall Park and Jon Glaser would have been minimized and the subplot involving Ezra Miller as a overly tenacious intern might have been excised altogether, or at least re-written. (An amusing side note. Miller has previously appeared alongside Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin where Swinton played Miller’s mother. If you’ve seen that film, you know why this dichotomy of personalities for these two actors in this film is amusing.)
Giving a Schumer script to someone like Garry Marshall or even Mel Brooks might have generated something quite different. To an extent Apatow is a perfect fit for this type of comedy, which makes his poor decisions even more frustrating. In spite of its fault, Trainwreck is an intensely funny, incredibly influential comedy that explores and destroys gender normative conceits and gives the audience a better look at the myriad personalities that exist in the world outside of traditional romantic comedies.
Probables: Original Screenplay
Potentials: Actress (Amy Schumer)
August 5, 2015