Monday, July 20, 2015
There are two voices in Trainwreck, the new comedy directed by Judd Apatow that Amy Schumer wrote and stars in. Schumer plays Amy, a Manhattan men’s magazine writer assigned by her editor (an uncomfortable Tilda Swinton) to profile a sports surgeon named Aaron (Bill Hader). The title Trainwreck doesn’t refer to the way Amy practices journalism, the script’s interest in Amy’s abilities as a writer could politely be called casual. It is Amy’s personal life that’s at issue, she has a nominal boyfriend (John Cena) but also hops between boozy one-night stands. The roots of Amy’s behavior lie in her father (Colin Quinn), whose opening flashback monologue ends with him leading his young daughters in a chant of “Monogamy isn’t natural!” The dramatic stakes of Schumer’s script revolve around whether or not Amy’s old ways will undo her even as her attraction to Aaron deepens.
The professionally accomplished and sexually confident woman Amy Schumer plays in Trainwreck initially seems of a piece with both Schumer’s TV persona and her recent media self-presentation. So I’m not sure what Schumer is trying to say when so much of her script seems intent on sanding down her character’s edges. Amy’s happily married sister (the very good Brie Larson) is presented as the model of a different set of choices, while Amy’s relationship with Aaron increasingly tacks towards romantic comedy conventions. (To be fair, Schumer points out and mocks some of these tropes in voice-over.) The ending involves Amy performing with the New York Knicks dancers, and while it’s wittily executed - there’s a great sight gag involving a trampoline - it hews pretty closely to the idea of the Climactic Grand Gesture we’ve come to know from a thousand lesser films.
It’s in the arc of Amy’s story that I thought I detected the influence of Judd Apatow, who’s a good match for Schumer’s bawdiness but who also is biased towards sweetness and convention in a way I’m not sure Schumer is. I can’t believe Schumer wrote the unfunny scene in which Aaron, whom Hader plays in a way to suggest that Aaron loves Amy but doesn’t always like her, receives relationship advice from a quartet of celebrities led by Matthew Broderick. LeBron James plays himself as one of Aaron’s clients, and though James ably handles the acting the fact of his presence feels like a trick or an extension of James’s brand. Trainwreck is just over two hours, and while it doesn’t feel as baggy as Apatow’s other films it does share the overall shape of a push towards maturity. I’ve never felt Apatow’s hand in Lena Dunham’s Girls as much as I do here, and there is no scene in Trainwreck as moving as Hannah and Adam’s final conversation in Girls most recent season finale. Amy Schumer is a better actor that I expected, she plays vulnerability very well and she will have more opportunities to act and write due to the success of Trainwreck at the box office. I did enjoy Trainwreck, there are plenty of laughs, but I look forward to Schumer unfiltered.