Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Movie Review: Trainwreck

Directed by: Judd Apatow.
Written by: Amy Schumer.
Starring: Amy Schumer (Amy), Bill Hader (Aaron), LeBron James (LeBron James), Colin Quinn (Gordon), Brie Larson (Kim), Tilda Swinton (Dianna), John Cena (Steven), Vanessa Bayer (Nikki), Dave Attell (Noam), Randall Park (Bryson),  Jon Glaser (Schultz),  Ezra Miller (Donald), Evan Brinkman (Allister), Mike Birbiglia (Tom), Norman Lloyd (Norman), Method Man (Temembe), Amar'e Stoudemire (Amar'e Stoudemire).

Judd Apatow is a smart man. His last two films – Funny People and This is 40 – were both box office and critical disappointments. This alongside the fact that his two previous films – The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up were both successes, and his good friend Paul Feig’s successes alongside Melissa McCarthy, made it look like perhaps Apatow’s moment had passed. But, as mentioned, Apatow is smart – and knows talented people, and so was smart enough to hitch his wagon to Amy Schumer. Schumer’s TV show, Inside Amy Schumer, is often daring and boundary pushing in its depiction of feminist issues on TV and in comedy (and even more frequently, hilarious). The two of them working together on Trainwreck – which Apatow directs, and Schumer wrote and stars in, works quite well – even if it does seem like Schumer has been forced, a little bit anyway, to fit her comic persona inside an Apatow shaped box. Trainwreck has a lot in common with The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up – except the genders have been reversed, so that it’s Schumer playing the irresponsible one who needs to grow up, and her love interest – Bill Hader – who has to be the one who helps her get there. Trainwreck is not revolutionary, like Schumer’s TV show, but what it is one of the funniest mainstream comedies of the year, so who really cares. It gives Schumer a fine entrance into the movies – where stardom looms – and gives Apatow a chance to get back on top. The two work well together.

In the film, Schumer plays a thinly veiled version of her own comic persona – also named Amy. But this Amy isn’t a stand-up comic and TV star, but like every other romantic comedy heroine, works at a New York based magazine. This one is called S’Nuff, and it’s a seemingly offensive, sexist and misogynistic “Men’s magazine”. Amy is up for a big promotion – and she has to nail her next story, a profile of a sports doctor, Aaron (Bill Hader), who works with all the big name athletes you could think of. But she hates sports. And Aaron is her seeming complete opposite. When we meet her, Amy is in a sort of relationship with Steven (Jon Cena), but also goes out and has a series of one-night stands – often waking up hung-over, after a night of hard drinking not sure exactly where she is. Aaron is more of a homebody – a little reserved and kind of awkward around women. Or, at least, I think that’s how I think he’s supposed to be, although as played by Hader, he’s doesn’t really come off that way. Anyway, of course these two are going to fall for each other – despite it being completely unprofessional, and no one will much care about that.

As with every Apatow movie, there are also several subplots that while enjoyable in their own right, may have been better off being cut. There’s Amy’s father (Colin Quinn) – one of those outspoken old bigots in the Archie Bunker traditional, who has MS and has had to go into assisted living, despite being very young to be there. There’s her sister Kim (Brie Larson) – who went in the opposite direction of Amy, married young, become a stepmother, and is now on her way to be a mother herself. There is Aaron hanging out with one of his clients – LeBron James – who spends an awful lot of time in New York for someone who works in Cleveland. There is a series of workplace scenes with Amy’s cruelly dismissive boss – Tilda Swinton – and her co-workers who all walk on eggshells around her. Some of these subplots work, some don’t – but all of them are elevated by having terrific actors in roles that sometimes border on the underwritten. Again, as with many Apatow movies there are also several scenes that probably seemed funny by themselves that simply drag the whole movie to a dead stop and don’t work in the movie as a whole (none more apparent than a “romantic intervention” staged by an odd collection of celebrities who are supposedly Aaron’s friends, that is not only unfunny, but painfully so).

Yet, whenever the movie threatens to head off the rails, Schumer herself is the one who more often than not brings it back. Schumer is thoroughly charming, funny and likable throughout the film. Like some other Apatow protagonists, she does some things that risk losing audience sympathy – but she’s so likable, and vulnerable, that she never does. Schumer doesn’t quite push as hard against stereotypes in the film as she does on her TV show – mainly playing it safe, as far as R rated romantic comedies go anyway. That’s actually kind of smart, as it allows her to establish herself as a legitimate movie star in this movie – and it works. If the film were just a comedy, it would still be worthwhile, as it’s smarter and funnier than most R-rated comedies to come out of Hollywood. But the film is also legitimately heartfelt – and may well have you tearing up once or twice. That balance takes skill, and although at times it’s not quite right, for the most part Trainwreck nails it.

In short, Trainwreck works – it walks that fine line between a Schumer comedy and an Apatow comedy. Schumer probably does have a more daring comic movie inside her somewhere, one that doesn’t quite cohere to Apatow’s style of humor – which while it can be gross out, is actually fairly conservative underneath all the sex. Schumer may be the person to burst past that at some point. For now though, Trainwreck will more than suffice.

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