Trainwreck is an honest film that defies gender stereotypes; though, more often than not, it still adheres to familiar romantic comedy tropes.
Amy (Amy Schumer) is a successful thirty-something magazine writer with a comparatively less successful dating history. After her womanizing father (Colin Quinn) stepped out on his family when she was nine-years-old, Amy began to believe that monogamy was a failed social norm – an unrealistic way of life that would, eventually, leave her hurt and disappointed. Instead, she drinks, smokes, and seeks out one hookup after another, pursuing men that are not marriage material (read: easy to send packing whenever things get too serious).
To counteract her failed relationships, Amy obsesses over her thankless job (staff writer at a mega-popular but superficial men’s magazine). While researching a story, she’s introduced to pro-athlete surgeon Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) and the two embark on a whirlwind relationship, pushing Amy into uncharted dating vulnerability, and causing her to think back on the pain her father caused his family. However, when her father’s health begins to decline, Amy is forced to reevaluate his life choices – as well as destructive patterns that she may have inherited.
Written and produced by Schumer, with Judd Apatow (The Forty Year-Old Virgin) sitting in the director’s chair, Trainwreck is a biting look at modern romance, gender politics, self-destruction, and the man-behind-the-sneakers, Lebron James. Schumer takes the same uncompromising but sincere approach to comedy that made her TV show, Inside Amy Schumer, a hit with critics and casual viewers alike. For that reason, viewers who are familiar with Apatow and Schumer will find edgy humor that adheres to a social-satirical but not raunchy tone. Trainwreck is an honest film that defies gender stereotypes; though, more often than not, it still adheres to familiar romantic comedy tropes.
In less capable hands, Schumer’s script would have produced a thoughtless, paint-by-numbers, date movie. Amy’s emotional baggage and general psych profile can be traced back to a specific event – that negatively impacted her development from age nine onward. What follows is a relatively straightforward tale of self-re-evaluation: a broken person (in this case the titular “trainwreck”) is challenged to let down their guard through a chance encounter with a someone who cares enough about them to not give up.
That said, Schumer’s writing reigns Apatow in, positioning the director for success, landing a sweet spot between his raunch-comedy work (Knocked Up) and grounded but somewhat dry adult dramas (This is 40). Moviegoers will likely see plot beats coming, as Schumer and Apatow include necessary characters/placeholders; yet, even when Amy’s story is overly-familiar (and over-long), Trainwreck peppers in fresh jokes as well as meaningful insights, simultaneously undercutting rom-com cliches that the larger narrative imitates.
The film’s success relies heavily on Schumer’s unrepentant commitment to both comedy and drama. Some TV watchers might have dismissed the explicit and subversive Inside Amy Schumer, but Trainwreck sees the actress tasked with balancing heartfelt human emotion and witty cultural commentary. Considering that Schumer has delivered memorable sketch-comedy characters, Amy isn’t likely to be the comedian’s defining role, but Schumer is a solid lead with crack timing – hinting that she has a bright future on the big screen.
The movie doesn’t shy away from sex, drugs, and offensive slurs, but at the same time, Apatow and Schumer are equally bold in juxtaposing social stereotypes – especially when it comes to masculinity, slut-shaming, and sports. The result is an earnest depiction of female power and desire – where Amy’s imperfections and struggles are used to undercut the Cinderella story romance, and provide a relatable tale of emotional baggage and personal growth.
As with any Apatow comedy, the director has assembled a wide roster of support talent – with a co-starring turn from Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live), playing Dr. Aaron Connors, Amy’s charming and infinitely patient suitor. Aaron isn’t afforded as many opportunities for social critique, serving as a sounding board for Amy’s fears and troubles, but Hader’s sharp improv skills are a smart match for Apatow’s loose filmmaking style. Still, in a cast that also includes Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, and Ezra Miller, viewers will be surprised to learn that basketball icon LeBron James and fan-favorite wrestler John Cena are two of Trainwreck‘s brightest highlights.
Inclusion of the sporting superstars (which are much more than cameos) aids in dismantling social norms – depicting the muscular jocks as sensitive and insightful (without resorting to reverse caricatures). Skeptical viewers will likely balk at the idea of a quality John Cena performance, but the wrestler offers a knowing turn – poking fun at his entertainment persona as Amy’s emotionally delicate boyfriend, Steven. Similarly, James plays a heightened (and penny-pinching) version of himself as Aaron’s patient, friend, and love guru. James is Trainwreck‘s biggest surprise – as a character as well as performer – and the basketball star’s scenes with Hader are especially laugh-worthy.
Easily-offended moviegoers may find Schumer’s humor off-putting and romantic comedy connoisseurs will see a lot of familiar ground in Apatow’s latest film; regardless, Trainwreck subverts that familiarity with engaging and unique perspective. Select story threads aren’t as profound as the filmmaker likely intended, but the movie is a strong foundation on which Schumer can expand her career (and choice in roles), as well as refreshing counter-programming for moviegoers who are tired of Disney-style cartoon love stories in live-action romantic comedies for adults.
Trainwreck runs 125 minutes and is Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use. Now playing in theaters.
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