REVIEW: Trainwreck

4 08 2015

Trainwreck PosterAt roughly the midpoint of “Trainwreck,” writer Amy Schumer sets up a remarkable parallel between two scenes at the same baby shower.  The character Amy, played by Schumer herself, has to endure a brutal game of “Skeletons in the Closet” where posh young mothers spill dark secrets … that actually reveal themselves as pathetically and predictably tame.

Meanwhile, Amy’s boyfriend, Bill Hader’s Aaron Conners, recounts details of the many athletes he has helped rehabilitate in his sports medicine practice.  He rattles of name after name to the same awe-struck reaction from a crowd of unfamiliar men … until he drops the name Alex Rodriguez.  Among this set of New Yorkers, this blasphemy inspires a sudden outburst of profanity.  But then, Aaron goes back to some more agreeable athletes, and the peanut gallery resumes the standard call-and-response.

These scenes, juxtaposed as they are, communicate a central tenet of “Trainwreck.”  Both genders, when taking cultural stereotypes of gender to the extreme ends of their performance, deserve mockery for their folly.  (This also includes John Cena, who briefly appears as Amy’s bodybuilding boyfriend who talks about the gym like many women talk about the nail salon.)  Schumer’s feminist intervention into the romantic comedy genre aims to level the playing field for men and women, not by putting the latter on any kind of pedestal but through suggesting the common humanity that unites them.

Her on-screen persona in “Trainwreck” arrives at the perfect moment, a time where many female characters are either monotonically strong or practically invisible and silent.  The “approachable” Amy, as her boss (played by a bronzed Tilda Swinton) condescendingly deems her, is a romantic comedy heroine cut from the cloth of contemporary society.  The hard-drinking, truth-telling, free-wheeling character benefits from the assertiveness in romance that women gained through the sexual revolution, yet she also pushes up against the lingering constraints left unconquered by that unfinished movement.  Amy also embodies the spirit of a generation scared to death of commitment, an era when the only thing scarier than the sea of possibilities is the choice to settle on one of them.

She meets her match in Aaron, an equally plain-spoken person who falls for Amy as she profiles him for the men’s magazine S’nuff.  The big difference, though, is that he possesses self-confidence where she shields her insecurities with self-deprecation.  Aaron, notably, never becomes a human incarnation of a “Mr. Wonderful” doll.  While exceedingly nice and admirable, Amy exposes a few of the buttons he might not like people pushing.

“Trainwreck” does not place Amy in the position of damsel in distress, nor does it make her some kind of prize for winning once tamed.  Amy’s impetus to change, although partially spurred by Aaron, seems to derive from an internal desire to stop numbing herself to the world.  And even in her triumphs (including the grand finale), Schumer always makes sure her Amy still shows some amusing, endearing flaws.  She is allowed to have flawed, circular logic, and it does not mean she is crazy; it just means we embrace her all the more.

Trainwreck

The romantic comedy has certainly seen better days than it is seeing in 2015.  Four years into their seeming exile by major studios, Schumer (with guidance from comedy king Judd Apatow as producer/director) gives them a pulse again with her incisive take on gender, courtship, and relationships.  She broadens the dialogue of dating in the genre beyond compartmentalized male or female problems.  These are everyone’s problems, and the technology available at our fingertips just exacerbates them far out of proportion.

Lest I make “Trainwreck” seem like nothing more than an academic exercise in redefining widely understood boundaries and expectations in the rom-com, I should also add that the film is raunchily and raucously hilarious.  The levels of laughter reach formidable levels, whether following Amy to her office with her spacey co-worker Nikki (Vanessa Bayer) or catching one of her priceless reaction shots to just about any scenario with Aaron.  Heck, she and Apatow even find a way to seamlessly integrate LeBron James into the film as a Judy Greer-style platonic best friend and not make it feel like stunt casting.  (It is a brilliant way to attract the attention of males, who sadly might otherwise only watch a romantic comedy begrudgingly.)

At times, the humor almost seems to overwhelm “Trainwreck.”  The film does fall prey to a number of classic Apatow shortcomings – namely, a bloated running time and a capitulation to his proclivity to serve as a producer.  He stocks the movie full with an embarrassment of comedic riches as if to show off all the horses in his impressively full stable.  Giving underrated performers like Colin Quinn and Mike Birbiglia a platform is honorable, and ditto the opportunities granted to rising stars like Brie Larson and Ezra Miller.

But is a fake movie with Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei really necessary?  Especially in a film that already grants screen time to sports stars like Tony Romo and Amar’e Stoudemire.  (And we only thought “Entourage” took all the cameos for summer 2015.)  The additional noise and flourishes, likely attributable to Apatow the director and mogul, just draw the attention away from Schumer and Hader as they restore some normalcy to the roles off romantic leads.  Her message and mission are far more important than a special guest appearance by Matthew Broderick as himself, a fact not initially obvious in the context of the scene.

Thankfully, Amy Schumer’s subversive, sublime humor manages to reverberate through and through.  The laughs are enjoyable, but the commentary is what makes “Trainwreck” truly memorable.  B+ / 3stars

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