It isn’t exactly a secret that the romantic comedy genre has gotten wholly unimaginative and stale. Formula and assured ticket sales trump effort on most occasions, and the risk of trying something interesting is just too great for many major studios. Judd Apatow, who directs Trainwreck but for the first time has no writing credit, has successfully bucked this trend before. Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, and This Is 40 are all largely centered on relationships in different phases, and none are exactly cookie-cutter in their approach. The same can be said of Trainwreck, a vehicle written by and starring rising comedian Amy Schumer.
On the surface, Schumer’s character (named Amy Townsend) will seem right at home for the actress for anyone even passingly familiar with her stand-up or sketch show. She plays a crass woman who sleeps around, drinks and gets high as often as she can, and has an aversion to monogamy rooted in a speech given to her and her sister by her father (Colin Quinn) prior to her parents divorcing. These qualities flip the script on which gender typically possesses these qualities on screen in a romantic comedy, and they aren’t remotely toned down. This is a decidedly R-rated movie with little concern for capturing the typical romantic comedy audience.
Trainwreck opens with the aforementioned divorce speech delivered with bitter aplomb by Quinn and then shows Amy putting these ideas to use. Most of her nights end in hazy sexual encounters followed by her refusal to spend the night and her hasty dismissal of every seeing her most recent lover again. She makes the muscle-bound Steven (wrestler John Cena, who is legitimately good and funny in his extended role) an exception, but even that doesn’t last long. Amy seems to exist only for base pleasures and her job writing for “S’nuff,” a shitty men’s magazine clearly intended to parody our disgusting modern-day culture.
Amy’s world views extend through the rest of her life. She takes comfort in visiting her MS-afflicted father in a nursing home and mocking the rest of the universe. She is visibly unnerved by the constant presence of her sister Kim’s (Brie Larson) husband and step-son whenever she stops by for a visit. She can’t go and see a movie without wine and a joint at the ready in her purse. All of these scenes work from a humor standpoint, but they also serve to build Amy as a frustrating character bound to her strict ideology and habits.
Things change dramatically when Amy meets Dr. Aaron Connors (Bill Hader) via a profile she has been assigned to write for her terrible magazine (Tilda Swinton plays her horrific boss while looking very little like Tilda Swinton). Aaron is revolutionizing surgeries for athletes, many of whom make an appearance in the movie via cameos or extended roles (LeBron James is very good as a super-weird version of himself). Amy finds Aaron interesting and challenging, so when she forcefully redirects the both of them to his place after a night of drinks, she willfully stays the night despite her vocal complaints about the sleeping arrangement. She has no idea why she’s feeling the things she does for Aaron, and her natural instinct is to run as far away from him as she can.
Trainwreck does an admirable job of bringing Amy’s struggles to light. She knows the feelings she possesses for Aaron are what other people are always raving about, but she has to fight her years of practice when it comes to doing the opposite. Amy is often petulant and terrible, causing problems for no other reason than self-sabotage and often reverting back to old habits grotesquely. Aaron shows his patience along the way, and he’s willing to work to make the new relationship work. When Amy’s promiscuity and penchant for being constantly fucked up are brought front and center, of course he is shaken. The back and forth between the two leads is very realistic, and so are the fights even as humor is brought into the mix.
There are some details about the movie that I really like. When Amy tells a cab driver to take her and Aaron back to his place after their first night out together, he doesn’t balk and play the silver screen good guy. He accepts, and they have sex. You know, like any guy would do. This is a nice touch, and it makes Aaron a more credible character than if he never gave into his desires like a real person would. Amy’s family dynamic is also well-executed, as both Amy and Kim have very different views on life and the failed marriage of their parents. Both of the sisters love their curmudgeonly father, but only Amy actually likes the guy. These scenes are often very affecting rather than filler, and that’s rare in a comedy.
While Trainwreck works on many levels, it’s also too long and sometimes gets bogged down by all of its high-profile cameos and scenes inserted only for humor. Some of this material just comes across as distracting. The funny scenes that work best (as always) are the ones working to further our knowledge of the characters. When Amy makes Steven “talk dirty” to her to spice up their sex life, it shows her restlessness with him in addition to being quite funny. When Steven gets in a verbal war with a fellow customer at a movie theater, it just feels unnecessary.
Ultimately Trainwreck winds up a competent and varied romantic comedy that doesn’t pull many of its punches. Amy Schumer adds depth to her character, rising beyond a foul-mouthed caricature and revealing a woman riddled by memories, anxiety, and other personal demons. This is not the funniest or best-executed film you’ll find on Apatow’s resume, but it’s both refreshing and well worth seeing.