I confess that I am a lifelong fan of romantic comedies and have a lot of patience for the hundreds of movies that are the legacy of the late, great Nora Ephron. I have watched You’ve Got Mail more times than any human being really should, and I can’t help but smile when the beautiful duo do the big redemptive speeches and kiss at the end of the movie.
Judd Apatow’s latest entry to the genre, Trainwreck, claims to have a bit more edge than its predecessors, pairing sketch comedy darling Amy Schumer with SNL-alum Bill Hader. The trailers feature a boozing, pot-smoking Schumer navigating an exhausting series of casual sexual encounters. Unfortunately, despite its promises to depict the real and raw nature of modern love, Trainwreck does not re-define the romantic comedy. However, it is still worthwhile.
Trainwreck opens on Amy Townsend (Schumer) making her way through a series of half-remembered nights and one-night-stands. Her life is a mess of smuggling boxed wine into movie theaters and kicking random guys out of her apartment. Amy works at a men’s magazine where articles like “You’re Not Gay, She’s Just Boring” and “A Guide to Jerking Off at Work” are standard fare at a pitch meeting. Her editor, played by a flawlessly mean Tilda Swinton, assigns her a feature on sports surgeon Aaron Conners (Hader). Amy meets Dr. Conners, they have a couple of awkward but endearing interviews, and eventually she seduces him in a remarkable moment of sexual agency. The next time they meet, Aaron insists that they begin dating. After he rushes to help when Amy’s father (who is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis) has a fall, she opens herself up to the possibility of a grown-up relationship. From that point things progress as expected in a rom-com, with a smattering of premises for some really great Inside Amy Schumer sketches poking in here and there.
The name ‘Amy’ isn’t the only thing Schumer shares with her protagonist. She has talked openly about how much she pulled from her real life while writing the film. Schumer has a younger sister who is married and doing the family thing, and she works in New York in a male-dominated industry. She also began writing Trainwreck while she was in the process of making herself vulnerable to love and dealing with her father’s Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. All of these elements are pulled into the story and the film really shines when the veil between Amy’s real life and her fictional one is thinnest. Amy’s interactions with her younger sister (Brie Larson) and her crotchety ailing father (Colin Quinn) are so authentic that at times I would have preferred to watch a family dramedy based on her real-life struggles over the rest of this romance.
The word ‘relatable’ applies to Trainwreck more than any other romantic comedy I’ve seen. Though I’ve never danced with NBA cheerleaders to win back a love interest, I have certainly felt undeserving of love and afraid of my own potential failures when it was offered to me. I’ve tried to sabotage a relationship that I thought was too good to be true over a petty argument because I felt insecure and was sure it would go sour sooner or later, and I wished over and over again that this movie would commit more to its relatable moments. Much of the film hints to Amy’s struggle with mental illness–she hyperventilates when forced to deal with the reality that her father is dying, she uses drugs to avoid emotions and sabotages her relationships with the people who love her–but none of this is acknowledged or verbalized by any of the characters surrounding her, and Amy’s “issues” are treated with frustration and confusion by her sister, brother-in-law and boyfriend.
That’s not the only one of Trainwreck‘s flaws. There is a weird brand of sexism at work in the film that is typical of any romantic comedy, but fairly harmless compared to other entries in the genre. There’s the part about marriage and kids being the expected outcomes for a woman. There’s part about a woman who’s having sex with a lot of partners being “broken.” There’s a part where a man is threatened by the number of sexual partners she’s had … blah blah blah. You know, the same old, same old.
Aaron is openly contemptuous about Amy’s work and co-workers, and is portrayed as the one in the right after getting mad at her for handling a work emergency and trying to save her job in the midst of a luncheon where he is receiving an award. More than once it’s clear that Aaron looks down on Amy’s lifestyle. He tries to police her drinking at a luncheon and complains about her issues to his best friend, LeBron James (played by LeBron James, the star of this film).
Ultimately, Amy still has to change everything about herself in order to get the guy and Aaron’s version of compromise is to find a way to be okay with her personality. Amy has to throw away her bong and bottles of liquor to “grow up” so that she can go get Aaron. Amy’s resistance to marriage and children is frequently portrayed as part of her childishness, and is embodied in her resistance to Aaron, who represents those heteronormative goals. Her sister is constantly telling her that that getting married and having kids is “what people do” and it’s implied that Amy will not be a true adult until she accepts Aaron and all he symbolizes. In order to be a healthy adult, according to Trainwreck, Amy must change herself pretty fundamentally, trading partying for a future with a man that is not comfortable with her as she is.
Here’s the thing: women can smoke weed and drink AND be a healthy, functional adult in a good relationship. They can also sleep around, or not have kids, or not get married, or anything against that ideal and be a grown-up. If they wanted to end the movie with Amy getting “clean,” it should have been suggested that Amy was performing these behaviours in an unhealthy way, using alcohol and weed to avoid processing her feelings. Addiction is a totally reasonable reason to give up your regular lifestyle. Conforming to other people’s expectations, however, is not.
If you listen to Amy Schumer’s first stand-up album, you might not even recognize her. She was still doing her dumb white girl routine and, honestly, I’ve never really liked it. But I love Inside Amy Schumer, and having her own show has given Amy a great platform to really play with her style. Amy Schumer is still defining her comedic voice, and it feels like she made too many compromises on this movie. Maybe it was Judd Apatow, maybe it was the pressure of making a studio feature releasing in the summer. All in all, though, Trainwreck is very, very funny. I laughed and cringed in equal measure, and it was tremendously entertaining.
There are glimpses of Amy’s particular brand of weird and vulgar in the film–you know, a few beautifully awkward sex scenes, on-point caricatures of suburban yuppies , and talk of Amy’s favorite topic: cunnilingus. The bits in-between these moments of greatness are not ground-breaking, but they are still good.
Now, let’s get Amy Schumer to direct her own feature.