0349 | Trainwreck

Trainwreck-Set-Visit-Amy-Schumer-Featured-970x545It always feels a little strange to be watching a new release that has already received a huge amount of coverage online, particularly when you end up disagreeing with some of that discourse, as is the case for me here. Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck – a mildly-raunchy rom-com written by and starring Amy Schumer – has received many positive reviews and has performed very well at the US box office, to some extent making a mockery of the popular suggestion that audiences in 2015 have lost their appetite for such fayre. I certainly wouldn’t disagree with the general consensus that Schumer is one of the funniest (and most exciting) Americans working in mainstream entertainment at the moment, because I’ve found the various seasons of Inside Amy Schumer to date consistently funny and she is on sparkling form here, but there have been a million and one articles celebrating her talent in the past three or four months and I can’t summon up the energy to make it a million and two. Yet I do wonder why there has been such clambering to laud Trainwreck as some kind of modern-day comic masterpiece; there seems to me to be half a funny film here, and that’s very firmly the first hour, in which Schumer’s character Amy Townsend sleeps around, goes to work on a men’s magazine, wearily dismisses nearly everyone in her life and then meets Bill Hader’s affable doctor Aaron Connors. She is edgy, and clever, and interesting, and witty, and basically encompasses everything you want from the lead character in a comedy.

Of course it’s still rare for a rom-com to lean so heavily on a female protagonist, especially one with a few rough edges who has casual sex, takes drugs and describes the state of their tampon by comparing it to a Tarantino film. It’s rarer still to see a woman like this (or any woman) front-and-centre within a Judd Apatow film, whether we’re talking about the few he has directed or the many that he’s either written or NEbTciZPpnq3ei_1_bproduced (there have been a handful of prominent female characters within his filmography, yes, but always playing second fiddle to your Seth Rogens, Jason Segels and Paul Rudds). And obviously this has happened because it is the first time Apatow has directed a film written by someone else – ye gods, a woman, no less! – even if Amy’s character and story arc resemble those of previous male Apatow creations (Knocked Up‘s Ben Stone springs immediately to mind). So yeah, following decades of male-dominated and male-focused mainstream comedy it’s certainly easy to see why Trainwreck is being celebrated for its part in a general, healthy female-centric resurgence within the genre, the latest in a long list of critical and financial success stories that have gone some way to redressing the earlier imbalance (see also Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect, Spy, 30 Rock, Parks And Recreation, The Heat, Girls, and so on and so on).

The success here comes from the sharpness of Schumer’s blackly-comic writing, her laconic delivery and excellent timing, as well as a few well-observed supporting turns. I thoroughly enjoyed watching single-ish Amy negotiate her amusing relationship with John Cena’s muscular lover Steven (their scenes together are the funniest in the film) and her work meetings, featuring Tilda Swinton’s larger-than-life editor Dianna and Ezra Miller’s childlike intern. I also enjoyed her awkwardness around Dr. Connors when they first meet, the stiff air between the two punctured by a few sharp asides, while Amy’s complete lack of respect for Tom (Mike Birbiglia) and Allister (Evan Brinkman), the husband and 47550192.cachedstepson of her sister Kim (Brie Larson), also provides a few laughs. Yet sadly these peter out when Trainwreck gets sucked into a kind of convention vortex, one that seems to affect more films within this genre than any other. Somewhat predictably the relationship at the centre of the story goes through a few ups-and-downs, the couple split and then get back together by the end. It really sags during this period, even stooping so low as to include a montage in which Amy and Aaron stare glumly into the middle distance while sitting alone at different cafes. This is the period when the film should be going intro overdrive, and this is the period in which most people will want to see Amy become the trainwreck suggested by the title. It never happens, sadly, and instead there’s an unnecessary reliance on supporting characters who, after 90 minutes, have started to lose a little of their appeal (though on balance I liked LeBron James’ performance, even if I’m sure it’s even funnier if you know a lot about LeBron James’ public persona, or how he is perceived by the general public, rather than a little).

I also dislike the way Trainwreck compensates for some of Amy’s actions. In 2015, just because someone smokes a little weed and sleeps with strangers, we really don’t need to subsequently see them caring for their ill father or being kind to homeless people, as if some great moral wrong or imbalance needs to be made right. Such conservatism within an otherwise-risqué film! That’s one of the concessions to Big Audiences that the film could have done without, and another is the constant shoe-horning in of celebrity cameos, many of which should have been left on the cutting room floor (the scenes involving Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, Matthew Broderick, Chris Evert and Marv Albert are as flat as a pancake). And then there’s the cameos of sportsmen (three, I think, but not being a connoisseur of American sports there could well be more), which could arguably be an attempt to make men feel comfortable about watching a female-fronted film. I can’t speak for everyone but if I had not been reminded that professional competition and testosterone exist I think I’d have survived the two-hour experience. The weak, standard rom-com stuff and the cameos sadly diminish the impact of the first hour, which is as funny as anything I’ve seen in 2015 (even if that is, sadly, a seven-out-of-ten kind of level). Trainwreck is 20 or 30 minutes too long, and despite its many attempts to shock it feels like a film that has been watered down and made safe for the multiplexes. That opening sixty minutes, however, is worth the price of admission. Cena, James, Swinton and Hader are fun, while Schumer has presence, charm and more than a little acidity to ensures that she stands out from the pack.

Directed by: Judd Apatow.
Written by: Amy Schumer.
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Mike Birbiglia.
Cinematography: Jody Lee Lipes.
Editing: Paul Zucker.
Music: Jon Brion, Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 124 minutes.
Year: 2015.

Comments 18

  1. table9mutant August 18, 2015

    Hmm. Great review! I prefer a balanced review like this & am actually more interested in seeing this now. Apatow pretty much bores me most of the time but this one has me curious. I may give it a go. 🙂

    • Stu August 18, 2015

      Cheers! This is a very typical Apatow film in some respects, but also very different in another sense. It’s just a shame that the funny stuff is all at the start.

    • Stu August 18, 2015

      Cheers! I hadn’t thought of that, but I guess it may be the case. I heard an interview with Hader and Schumer in which the former said the script was pretty much finished when he first saw it. But they still improvised bits anyway. I will definitely check your review tomorrow, just going to bed now!

  2. Keith August 18, 2015

    I skipped this altogether. I simply don’t like Apatow’s brand of comedy. Never really have. And it seems like almost all of his films are 20 or 30 minutes too long (as you point out). Definitely not my thing.

    • Stu August 18, 2015

      Fair enough! I’ve not followed Apatow that closely myself…I missed his last two films and was intrigued by the presence of Schumer here more than him. I’ve missed quite a few of the supposedly-decent comedies he’s been involved with, such as The Pineapple Express and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I have a feeling I won’t like them as much as others…he’s popular but it’s a case of ‘small doses’ for me!

      • ruth August 18, 2015

        I’m with Keith in terms of this raunchy brand of comedy. I do find Amy Schumer funny in some interviews, but judging from the trailer, I have a feeling I might not enjoy this one. I did see Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I enjoyed it as the humor is more self-deprecating, not mean-spirited.

        • Stu August 19, 2015

          It’s not for everyone, I guess. I will try and watch FSM some time. It must be available to stream somewhere!

  3. ckckred August 19, 2015

    Nice review Stu. I’ve enjoyed Amy Schumer’s show on Comedy Central and have been meaning to watch this for a couple of weeks. LeBron’s role makes it worth the admission.

    • Stu August 20, 2015

      I really like that too, though I think it’s better than this (but then sketch shows may well be easier to write than feature length comedies, I have no idea!). LeBron is pretty funny, although I suspect even funnier to American audiences who will be more familiar with him. I’m keen to see more of Schumer on the big screen.

  4. Todd Benefiel August 20, 2015

    I was very excited to see this when I first read about it, since I love Amy Schumer’s work on her television series. But once I saw the trailer, I felt a little let down; it seemed to me (like you suggest) that she was being held back or restricted or something. Granted, this was just the trailer, but I think your thoughts in the review confirm it. And why couldn’t this be simply cast, instead of overloading it with stars and cameos and sports heroes? I have quite a few free Harkins passes, so someday soon I’ll check it out for that first hour.

    • Stu August 20, 2015

      Maybe restricted is right, I’m not sure, or maybe she scaled back her own humour for a bigger crowd. I’d recommend this, especially for free! The first hour I thought was really good, especially the John Cena scenes.

  5. Three Rows Back August 22, 2015

    I’ve heard mixed reports about this, with some thinkikng she’s the second coming of comedy and others shrugging their shoulders and wondering what all the fuss is about. I was going to watch this with my girlfriend the other day, but she watched the trailer and wasn’t interested. There you go…

    • Stu August 24, 2015

      I’m more in the second camp there than the first. She is funny – and I think she’ll be around for a long time – but she can only keep it up for an hour. Big step from sketch show to feature film though and there’s plenty of promise (at least before the inevitable straight role + Oscar nomination a la Carrey, Carell etc).

  6. Tom September 8, 2015

    Digging the observation you made about how the film might be compensating for its female leads by injecting a lot of sports figures/personalities into the story. I never stopped to think about that. I honestly think that’s exactly what’s happening, as Apatow et al could have polled any NBA player to perform in this — but instead they took the highest-profile player in LeBron James and stuck him in a very visible supporting player role. I think the gimmick worked, and felt less of a gimmick b/c James surprisingly could act.

    And yet I think Trainwreck works on its own. The very fact that it’s the woman who’s imperfect and not the guy — although Dr. Connors isn’t necessarily a “perfect guy” either — makes the film stand out to me. And it’s definitely one of the better Apatowian productions in some time

    • Stu September 9, 2015

      Yeah having an imperfect female character at the centre made for a nice change, in terms of Apatow’s shtick anyway. I thought Cena did well too, although obviously he has more acting experience. His scenes with Schumer were my favourites.

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