Schumer and Apatow’s Trainwreck takes on the careworn genre of the romantic comedy and loses, becoming a funny but recycled series of sketches arranged around the dullest plot imaginable. You may not be convinced that these two lovers are destined for each other, or that marriage and family contain all happiness, but you’ll hear some crackerjack jokes along the way. You’ll also see a lot of material that has already been used to better effect in Inside Amy Schumer. Also, LeBron James splits a bill.
Director: Judd Apatow
Screenplay: Amy Schumer
Runtime: 125 minutes.
Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Plot: Not fully comfortable in her relationship with her meat-head boyfriend (John Cena), self-acknowledged commitment-phobe Amy (Amy Schumer) drunkenly stumbles from one-night-stand to one-night stand in search of nothing in particular. All of that changes when her magazine editor and boss (Tilda Swinton) assigns Amy to cover elite sports doctor and Mr. Right, Aaron (Bill Hader). Initially resisting the pull of his charm and success, Amy struggles to manage her aging father (Colin Quinn) and pressure to settle down from her married sister (Brie Larson).
Review: Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck is a hard film to evaluate; as much as I enjoyed it, I can’t help feeling disappointed that it wasn’t something more than a disposable rom-com. Part of that excitement-turned-disappointment comes from the involvement of Schumer herself, who writes and stars as a thinly veiled simulacrum of her comedic persona. No genre of film is more tired than the dreaded rom-com; if anyone could subvert its conventions in a new, and original, way it should be Schumer. Indeed her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, has some of the smartest and funniest material on television at the moment – from her visually luscious and satirically humiliating take on twerking music videos (“Milk, Milk, Lemonade”), to glossy magazine editors pitching increasingly unhinged article ideas, to comments on the increasing homo-eroticism of modern masculine culture, to street banter about the most attractive Johnny Depp character.
And that’s the fundamental problem if you are a fan of Inside Amy Schumer; you’ve seen a lot of this material before, some of it almost word for word (or twerk-for-twerk, in the case of a high-energy cheerleader finale). Couple that with a recycled cast of supporting players such as (an always welcome) Jon Glazer, (an over-exposed) Randall Park, (a criminally underused) Bridget Everett, et al and you have essentially an extended episode of her show. This means that joke for joke, Trainwreck is hilarious; but as a whole, the plot fails to be anything but clichéd and predictable. The performances are excellent, particularly Schumer channeling a more sexually confident Liz Lemon, but the narrative sub-structure is almost offensive in its recycled and pedestrian nature. Really, the only difference between this Schumer script and a MacFarlane script is that her jokes are funny.
Some elements are amazingly well conceived; in particular, a horrifying sex scene with John Cena will have the more reflective body builder ask some searching questions about their life choices. A well paced theatre confrontation has his character expressing the view that ‘you know what I do with assholes? I lick them!’ in a nice reversal of a typical MacFarlane gay panic joke. A similar revelation comes from the acting abilities of LeBron James, who is not only amusing but also seems to be channeling Carl Weathers from Arrested Development while splitting the bill at a restaurant. There are a lot of fantastic sketches in this film, which sadly don’t sit well within the lazy romance narrative they’ve been shoehorned into. Further dragging the film down is the third-way protagonist of recent comedies – not quite a hero, or an anti-hero, just a fuck-up that we sympathise with because that is who the film forces the audience to spend the most time with. Many in the audience will feel that Hader’s character Aaron is probably better off with another girl.
It is made all the more disappointing because Schumer’s great sketches are not the only things that are repurposed; there’s a lot of lazy Woody Allen recycling that even a blowjob on the park bench of Manhattan fame and a reference to Soon-Yi can’t rescue from tired unoriginality. We also get a limp homage to Bananas, as commentator Marv Albert does just that to an impromptu intervention for Amy (which Matthew Broderick attends, for seemingly no reason).
Schumer’s script also leans heavily on what I’ll call “writer’s room situations,” essentially excuses within the narrative to recreate situations where the spit-balling of the writer’s room can be reused holus-bolus. Thus Amy works for a trashy men’s magazine, with the mandatory session of pitching outrageous article ideas like ‘whether garlic makes semen taste any different’ (and where Tilda Swinton reprises her character from Snowpiercer, because all editors must be British bitches). The trick is reused when, apropos of nothing, the ladies at a bridal shower decide to go around in a circle and share the skeletons in their closets. We get an annoying late 80s/early 90s voiceover from the protagonist to re-explain the already slight plot to us; and there is the inevitable false break over nothing, where the characters are forced to separate only to reconcile at the climax of the film days later. Billy Joel’s endlessly picked on ‘Uptown Girl’ is inserted early, and ridden all the way home at the resolution of the film; another technique that is fast becoming an ‘our-song’ crutch of the genre, meant to shorthand for forgiveness and compromise (through begrudgingly playing along to his/her shitty taste in music). There are comically tall toilet stall doors and ankle shots underwear; archaeologists pouring over the remnants of our civilisation will puzzle over women’s need to simultaneously pee together, as we puzzle over the mass hysterias of the dark ages now. And forget pregnancy tests; the only reason a lady would ever decline a drink is because a baby is on the way.
As much as I hate to be down on Schumer’s obvious talent, I have no compunction when it comes to Apatow’s lazy and complacent direction. Although he attempts to disguise what is obviously a mainstream, studio film with indie Instagram filters and non-sequitir lines from Dave Attell’s homeless guy, this is a shameless attempt at a cross-over date night film that has the sports sensibilities for the guys, but the sex-talk and requisite romance for the girls. Finally, of course, the wisdom of a child brings about a much-needed reconciliation, Amy publishes her nice article on her love (surprising him, as it is seemingly not fact checked by either him or his office?) and the film cuts to black, happily-ever-after, before we see the inevitable breakdown of their relationship several years later. The moral of the story is, of course, that true happiness is found when we form our pre-destined heterosexual couples and turn our minds towards pumping out the rest of that nuclear family. The normative lifestyle continues to teach. One gets a feeling that an earlier draft of the film could be greenlit with Hudson and McConaughey attached.
Is this the great indie subversion of the genre we’ve been waiting for? No. Is it worth seeing? Yes, for the scene of Bill Hader taking on LeBron James on the basketball court alone.
Oh, also Colin Quinn was in this film as an older, racist father. That is all.
Rating: Two and a half stars.