Trainwreck – 2015
Director Judd Apatow
Starring Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Mike Birbiglia, Ezra Miller, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James
It may be for the best, but I had not seen much of Amy Schumer prior to watching Trainwreck. That tactic worked for Ted, because one of the things I heard a lot was it isn’t the same if you’ve watched Family Guy. The thing about comedians is the funny is almost always paralleled with a certain degree of sadness. The comedy is countered by tragedy. Yeah, I think the routine kind of stinks, unless the story has more than the plot going for it.
Damn if it doesn’t apply to Schumer’s semi-autobiographical film. The first version of the story had her as a car saleswoman, but Apatow encouraged her to cut closer to the bone. And so we get this. Looking over her bio, I don’t see where she’d done much writing for magazines in the past, but she’s done plenty of it for her performing career. Emmy nominated, even.
The story finds Schumer as Amy Townsend. She has taken her father’s inability to be monogamous and turned it into an art form. She is dating someone (Cena) with a conspicuous fascination with the male form, but that doesn’t stop her from dating other guys. Many other guys. And three women. A job assignment with S’nuff men’s magazine sets her up with sports doctor Aaron Conners (Hader).
Meanwhile her father Gordon (Quinn) has been sent to an assisted living home. Her sister Kim (Larson), who is happily married to a likeable guy (Birbiglia) with a son named Allister. Allister is not a typical boy, and he is not Kim’s, which sets both Amy and her father ill-at-ease. Nevertheless father and son are accepting of their in-laws, making it apparent the problem lies with the protagonist and her biggest influence.
Things are progressing with Aaron when Kim gets pregnant and then Gordon dies, setting in motion a series of events that force change in everyone’s comfortable existence.
My first impression of the film is how well Schumer’s script matches with Apatow’s directing style. That impression grows to a type of sadness when one realizes that Apatow’s films have skewed long and a little sad lately. After we see her powerful opening act and a nice, convincing move towards monogamy, we get stopped by tragedy and cataclysmic decisions that feel like a way to inject drama into the film that must be overcome.
Schumer herself is ready for prime time. She is completely at ease in front of the camera, willing to play the asshole, because she knows that the asshole meets more interesting people in the ditch than in the middle of the road. As a result, Schumer the writer surrounds herself with characters that don’t give her a free pass. They aren’t giving each other any breaks either. This is a net plus to the film.
The acting is good in the film, with Larson, Birbiglia, Hader and Quinn standing out. LeBron James does a humorous version of himself that is good, if a little too cloying. They could have dropped the references to Downton Abbey and made it a little more believable. Also, does LeBron just hang out in NYC between games? If he was playing in Miami or Cleveland, the commute would be a challenge. Cena is funnier in his limited role. The lovemaking scene is as uncomfortably comical as anything since Bruno. His vulnerability is uniquely portrayed for an actor that comes from the WWE.
The crux of the film and the difficulty with all romantic comedies is in transitioning from initial bliss to eternal bliss. In the absence of an outside force, one or the other has to be misunderstood in someway, and then that misunderstanding has to be blown out of proportion. It’s a tough sell to a person who’s seen enough romantic comedies. Trainwreck is no exception. Fortunately we have Schumer’s comic instincts to push through the discomfort of watching Schumer moving out of the shadier parts of her life.
Hader and Schumer work well because each of them look the part. Neither is gorgeous, but each is one that most people could picture themselves ending up with for a long-term (or shorter term) relationship.
Larson and Birbiglia get the happy supporting couple role in the story. It’s a good source of balance for the protagonists to find a couple that is approachable and somewhat normal compared to them. They provide an opportunity for the leads to act antagonistically while keeping them within the breadth of their character.
The key to comedy is balancing the laughs with moments that resonate without dragging one down too low. Apatow succeeds with Schumer here for the most part. If this film is not quite to the level of This is 40, it is definitely well above Funny People. I can see myself watching this years from now and still enjoying it. There is plenty to identify with, and enough that one doesn’t to stay interesting.
(**** out of *****)