Review – Trainwreck (2015)
Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larsen, Colin Quinn, LeBron James, Tilda Swinton, John Cena
The traditional romantic comedy is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. A hit romantic comedy in the 21st century requires a slightly harder edge, and that is exactly what you get in Trainwreck, the debut film from writer and star Amy Schumer.
Trainwreck starts with a flashback, 23 years in the past, as Gordon (Colin Quinn) sits his two young daughters down to explain why he and their mother are getting a divorce, an explanation which finishes with the girls reciting the mantra “monogamy is unrealistic.” Fast forward to the present day, and while Kim (Brie Larson) is happily married with a step son and a baby on the way, elder sister Amy (Amy Schumer) has taken her father’s advice to heart. She is a proud, single woman with a long list of conquests and a job she loves, writing for S’Nuff, a seedy men’s magazine not above publishing articles on the ugliest celebrity children and the effects of garlic on the taste of semen. Despite her hatred of sports, she is assigned to do a profile on a prominent sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). There is an instant chemistry between the two and a preliminary interview becomes drinks and then a cab ride back to his apartment and… well, you know. But Amy is thrown when Aaron rings her the next day to see if she wants to hang out again and suggests they should become a couple.
In a lot of ways Trainwreck is a straight reversal of a number of traditional gendered roles in rom-coms. Schumer plays the emotionally stunted, commitment fearing protagonist whose world is turned upside down when confronted with ‘the real thing.’ Bill Hader’s Aaron is the love interest, while basketball superstar LeBron James plays the love interest’s supportive and protective best friend. All of these are reversals of the gender traditionally assigned to those characters, but it is most interesting in the character of Amy. Amy is a sexual woman, content to live a life of one night stands and flings and not seeking any sort of commitment, but the film doesn’t judge her for that. Society has a real double standard when it comes to male and female sexual promiscuity, a double standard that Schumer is no doubt aware of. With its clearly and specifically female narrational voice, Trainwreck challenges this double standard by treating Amy’s sexuality the same way that an equivalent male character’s sexuality would be treated. There is no slut shaming. She is simply sowing her wild oats.
Coming off the third season of her hit Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer, Amy Schumer is on fire at the moment and as she makes her first step into Hollywood, Trainwreck does nothing to suggest that rise won’t continue. Both on stage and on television she is a provocative, insightful and viciously clever writer. In her first screenplay she explores an idea we are familiar with – the reflex to self-sabotage a relationship as it heads into unchartered waters of emotional intimacy – but does it with an unflinching honesty and sincerity without sacrificing laughs. That the protagonist’s name is Amy makes it impossible not to think of the film as being in some sense autobiographical, and Schumer has been open about the extent to which she has drawn inspiration from her own life. Celebrated Saturday Night Live alumnus Bill Hader showed that he has some serious dramatic chops in last year’s indie darling The Skeleton Twins, and he is strong here largely playing the straight man to Schumer’s clown. Supporting turns from Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson and Colin Quinn are all good, but the surprise packet is LeBron James, who demonstrates sound comic timing in playing a heightened version of himself, hilariously thrifty with his money and always keen to spruik the benefits of living in Cleveland.
Collaborating with Schumer on her maiden film is director and producer Judd Apatow. Apatow has been involved as writer, director or producer in a number of the most successful adult comedies of the last decade including The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Bridesmaids and the television series Girls. He has also been a mentor figure to a generation of Hollywood’s most prominent comedic performers. So he is a trusted name whose presence would have reassured studio executives and ensured that Schumer’s creative vision was protected. His fifth film as a director, Trainwreck marks the first time Apatow has directed a film that he did not write but his directorial influence can still be felt in the film’s tonal balance of comedy and drama. He has always been a comedic director happy to take time with his characters rather than just making scenes joke-joke-joke and out. As a result, there are times in Trainwreck where its progress feels quite slow, and its two hour runtime is a bit on the long side for a comedy, but this is compensated for by greater depth and investment in the characters.
While Trainwreck is an inversion of the romantic comedy, it is still a romantic comedy, so you know where it is going. But as always, the joy is in how you get there. Schumer’s hilarious screenplay is raw and razor sharp, always opting for honesty rather than easy shortcuts on its way towards a satisfying, if sentimental conclusion.
Review by Duncan McLean
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