It should come as no surprise that writer/star Amy Schumer and director Judd Apatow have produced one of the funniest comedies in years. In hindsight, that pairing is pretty much a no-brainer, but Trainwreck’s particular charms and strengths are ones that sneak up on you. It’s a comedy as crude and hilarious as anything you’re likely to see in theaters, but it’s also one of surprising warmth and humanity. It takes a lot of work to redeem a character as outwardly horrible as the one Schumer plays here, but she and her co-stars move mountains to make that happen.
Amy plays Amy, a writer for an obnoxious men’s magazine named S’Nuff. (Try to imagine the bastard child of Buzzfeed and Esquire and you’re in the ballpark.) Her entire life, Amy has lived under the belief instilled by her father (Colin Quinn) that monogamy and relationships are a bunch of hogwash. While her sister Kim (Brie Larson) has settled down with a husband (Mike Birbiglia) and stepson, Amy spends her nights drinking, sleeping around and occasionally dating a hilariously insecure meathead (John Cena). When Amy’s boss (Tilda Swinton, killing it) assigns her to interview sports surgeon Aaron (Bill Hader), sparks improbably start to fly and Amy finds herself in a relationship that might actually work.
Of course, there’s a natural “opposites attract” sort of chemistry going on here. Aaron is as straight-laced as doctors come. He’s one of the rising stars of sports medicine, doing revolutionary surgeries on everyone from Tom Brady to Amar’e Stoudemire. Amy, on the other hand, is the film’s namesake trainwreck, who has such an open disdain for all things sports that she doesn’t even know who LeBron James is when she meets him face to face. This might be neither here nor there, but as Amy is a writer living in New York City, her negative cultural awareness seems bizarre to me. I myself don’t watch much TV, but I’m at least vaguely familiar with who Amy Schumer is. The point, though, is that it’s anyone’s guess as to what these two people see in each other, but then that tends to be true of most relationships.
Schumer’s screenplay works as well as it does, in part because she leans into the formula and cliches of the romantic comedy instead of trying to flip them on their ear. From Amy and Aaron’s meet-cute to their dating montage to their inevitable falling out and outlandishly staged reunion, this film makes no bones about its rom-com trappings. Schumer uses that structure as a framework from which she can hang a litany of one-liners, sexual gags and oddball stunt casting. This may be a rom-com through and through, but she makes it clear that this is her rom-com. Schumer and Apatow know this formula works for a reason, and have every intention of working it as hard as they can.
For example, every lead in a romantic comedy has to have a buddy with whom they can discuss relationship business. It’s one of those inescapable movie rules, because otherwise our romantic leads would be sitting in a coffee shop talking out loud to themselves about their own sex lives. That would be fine in a film about lunatics in love, but it wouldn’t work in a film about two NYC socialites. To that end, Amy has coworker Nikki (Vanessa Bayer), who gets an awful lot of mileage out of a big, goofy grin. Meanwhile, Aaron’s best friend is previously-mentioned NBA all-star LeBron James. Casting James not only as himself, but as Aaron’s de facto life coach (whose advice only ever seems to apply to himself) sounds gimmicky on paper, but James sneaks in and winds up becoming the film’s MVP.
Lurking beneath all the stunt casting and zingers, though, lies a more grounded story about a broken woman realizing she can’t live this way anymore. There’s a palpable tension in Amy’s scenes with her sister, particularly in the way she constantly puts down Kim’s nerdy stepson, her husband, and essentially her entire life. She’s lived so long believing Kim’s life isn’t realistic that when she’s faced with that opportunity herself, she’s ready to burn the whole thing down purely out of fear. And while Amy Schumer is able to go broad and outrageous, she isn’t quite as successful at bringing her character back down to earth. In the handful of emotional scenes between Amy’s family, Apatow chooses to linger on Brie Larson’s reactions. To be fair, Larson is wonderful in her handful of scenes, but it’s pretty clearly Apatow covering up for one of the film’s few pitfalls.
Then again, if the only real problem with your film is that you have to edit Brie Larson in over someone else’s performance every once in a while, you’re doing pretty okay. At it’s best, Trainwreck is a gleefully raunchy comedy with a remarkably high laugh-per-minute ratio; at it’s worst, it’s a pretty good movie about adults forcing themselves to do that last little bit of growing up. If all is right with the universe, this film should translate into a huge movie career for Amy Schumer and more starring roles like this for Bill Hader. Because for as many of the people in this film remind Amy that Aaron is a great catch, it feels like Judd Apatow trying to send Hollywood the same message about Bill Hader.
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