Trainwreck (dir. Judd Apatow)

Posted: July 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Trainwreck” is not the politically astute, dirty-minded feminist comedy we, or at least I, expected Amy Schumer to write as her first feature film script.  It’s dirty-minded, and it is often very funny, but it’s surprisingly anti-feminist and reactionary.  What the whole story boils down to is that a woman who sleeps around a lot is probably drunk out of her mind every time she does it, and it all stems from daddy issues.  Oh, and the only key to happiness is a stable, monogamous relationship.  I expect that last message to come from Judd Apatow, whose entire filmography (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, “Knocked Up”, “Funny People”, and “This is 40”) have that same message.  I did not expect Amy Schumer to write a slut-shaming movie, though.

The saving grace of the film is that Schumer doesn’t paint all women with the same brush, and in fact saves most of the embarrassment and hard times for the character she plays, also named Amy.  A good comedian (or comedienne) isn’t afraid to make themselves look like a complete jackass for a laugh, and Schumer is certainly fearless.  We get the character of Amy’s sister, Kim (Brie Larson), who is relatively well-adjusted, even if her husband (Mike Birbiglia) is a massive tool and a dork.  Kim’s harboring some resentment over their father (Colin Quinn) for being a philandering sleazyball and leaving their mother when they were younger, but honestly you can’t blame the girl. The father in present day is suffering from M.S. and in an assisted living facility which costs too much, but Amy lovers her father, took his drinking and promiscuity into her own personality, and wants to care for him.

Amy works for Maxim-ish mens magazine and, despite hating sports, is assigned to write an article about an orthopedic surgeon who mainly works with athletes, Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader).  Conners is a genuinely nice guy (he works with Doctors Without Borders) and is an unusual addition to Amy’s list of sexual partners. After they hook up (out-of-character for Conners, par-for-the-course for Amy) Amy wants to not see him any more sexually because, well, it’s rare for her to see someone for more than a night, and unheard of to be non-exclusive. Conners wants to keep seeing her romantically and rather politely but firmly convinces Amy that she wants this too.  Thus begins the main dilemma of the film: Amy does indeed want to have a relationship with Conners, but the concept of a monogamous, loving relationship is so foreign to who she is as a person, and she is so racked with unconscious self-hatred, that she doesn’t think she is capable of it, or deserves it.

I’m quite confused as to why Schumer wrote her character as alcoholic and self-hating.  It’s an entirely possible to make a film about a woman who is promiscuous and owns it, is perfectly safe and healthy, and has trouble transitioning to monogamy even though she really wants it.  That concept would have many comedic opportunities without the weird moralizing this film has.  By making Amy an alcoholic who is following the patterns of the father who broke up her family, Schumer is equating alcoholism, and unhealthy addiction, with sleeping around.  The film’s not arguing that Amy is a sex addict, in which case equating alcohol with dangerous, unsafe, impulsive sex would fit.  The film is merely saying that going out and hooking up is a reckless thing in and of itself.  Granted, getting wasted while drinking to last call and going home with strangers is not a healthy thing in general, but the alcohol is what makes it de facto unhealthy.  If a stone cold sober woman decides to sleep with a guy at the end of the night, there’s nothing per se wrong with that.  The issue in this film is that Amy is nearly always inebriated when she makes a sexual decision.  She is also very rarely shown to enjoy sex, and seems grateful to be rid of the men as soon as the act is over.  Any way you cut it, “Trainwreck” is a very sex-negative film.  It’s almost ironic that there’s a scene in the film where Amy yells at a group of cheerleaders that they’re going to make women lose the right to vote.

But it is really damn funny.  While I am not a woman, the film does feel true to how women feel and talk sometimes.  When Amy and a coworker are in adjacent stalls in the bathroom discussing which Johnny Deep role is the hottest iteration of Johnny Depp, it felt like a conversation women would have. Amy’s frank description of a tampon left in the toilet on a heavy flow day, her description of her breasts when she lies down, and many other nuggets of dialogue feel how women would deliver self-deprecating humor to other close women in their circles.  Amy the character is not a particularly nice person, as one character explicitly tells her, but that makes it all the funnier when she finds herself in awkward situations (insulting sports fans wearing jerseys with other men’s names on them while the man she’s speaking to has a framed jersey in his office, for example).

John Cena deserves a mention.  He is very, very funny in a supporting role of a boyfriend of Amy’s early on. Cena is a huge guy, and he milks a lot of humor out of being a dumb, possibly latently-homosexual guy with a heart of gold and good intentions. Cena has mostly been relegated to a movie career of D-list action films, but he shows good comedic potential in this film.  Other sports stars, such as LeBron James, don’t have acting chops as decent as Cena’s, but also show a surprisingly good comic timing. Apatow is good at milking cameos in his films (“Funny People” especially) and I credit his ability to direct non-actors with how well some of these cameos play out.

The film is really just loaded with comedian gold. Bill Hader has become a wonderful jack-of-all-trades who can be put into almost any role in any comedy and make the film shine. Colin Quinn, whose comic persona has rarely worked outside of his stand-up and one-man shows, finally has a role that he fits into like a glove. Tilda Swinton gets to do her best “Devil Wears Prada” impression. Honestly, this film finds laughs everywhere it can.  While I wouldn’t call the film hilarious, and there aren’t many BIG laughs in the film, I doubt there were more than one or two scenes which didn’t contain at least one good laugh.

As for Schumer, well, she shows that she can hold her own as an actress in a feature film.  She’s always convincing as the character she’s written for herself, and even while making herself look horrible she finds ways to convey her character’s cuteness and innate vulnerability in an endearing way in some scenes. Despite Amy (the character) being downright loathsome in some scenes, Schumer finds ways to keep us rooting for her through the film, and that’s a testament to her screen presence.

Message-wise I have issues with the film, but overall it’s quite a funny movie, and I won’t deny that I enjoyed it a lot.  Also, it’s the first film of Apatow’s that I didn’t feel was overlong. The pacing of the film was just right, showing that Apatow has finally allowed his editors to have a voice. B.

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