It’s a given that a studio movie in 2015 won’t have the guts of a cable channel TV show. Even if Trainwreck is easily Judd Apatow‘s best movie, anticipate compromises. You could forecast it. Amy Schumer, the lady who does without apologies, was going to end up apologizing, swearing off the bad behavior and learning to accept the possibility of motherhood, instead of being weirded out by the whole child-bearing mess.
There is a studio movie-making logic to the way Trainwreck is built. This way, Schumer’s persona gets an arc, when she wises up and realizes that true love is what really matters. That logic has been proven to entice people to buy tickets. And that logic is also what kills your interest in the movies, inch by inch. It’s the logic that makes you not feel like not arguing much when you meet someone who says that they hate movies because they’re invariably phony.
The important thing is that we do get at least 90 percent of the Amy Schumer we see on TV, as well as new views of her talent. She holds the big screen with ease. She’s poetry in motion—teetering on high heels like a workman on a badly-balanced ladder, wearing skirts so tight she’s hobbled. One morning’s walk of shame to the Staten Island ferry leads to a hilarious homage of the Funny Girl helicopter shot. Her drunk scenes have no sticky pathos. She acts in a tearful yet profane funeral scene with deftness, frankness and vulnerability. The first time she has sex with the man she grows to love, she’s beautifully in control—you admire her nerve and gentleness, and the way she murmurs “This is happening” as she climbs aboard. These acting moments compliment Schumer’s drastic comedy character, the character of a proudly drunk, and promiscuous woman.
Somewhere someone is coming up with an essay comparing the two Amy movies out now—this and the Winehouse documentary, about that famous trainwreck’s tragedy. Before they do publish it, I hope they’ll consider what Amy Schumer would think of the lyrics of “Stronger Than Me.” What delights you about Schumer is that she’s the forceful one—a real Lilith. Maybe she’s not admirable, but above everything, she’s independent.
Amy plays “Amy,” a Manhattan magazine writer indoctrinated as a child by her no-good philandering dad to the idea that monogamy never works. As an adult, she helps herself to an ever-rotating wheel of guys. She’s currently stuck on one good-hearted ox (played by the wrestling star John Cena), splendidly built and terrible in bed. Amy works at a horrible lad-magazine S’Nuff, pronounced “It’s enough.” Her mean, lock-jawed British editor (Tilda Swinton, a scream) forces Amy to do a profile on a self-effacing sports medicine surgeon named Aaron (a well-cast Bill Hader). Inevitably, Amy pounces on the doctor after a night of dinner and drinks. When she wakes in the morning, Amy is caught in a fork. She harbors strange new uncomfortable feelings for Aaron, who she previously would have used fast and dropped hard. And the only alternative Amy can imagine to the nights of drinking and sleeping around is the life her sister (Brie Larsen) has—she’s a mommy, married to a dullard, and pregnant again.
The male life is situated as less fun than the way the women get along, but LeBron James—as Aaron’s pal and sounding board—plays himself with surprising flexibility. Amy has no interest in sports and considers them a waste of time—I actually heard a gasp in the theater when Amy started explaining what she thinks about sports and the people who watch them. But Apatow seems to have loaded on guy interest through cameos by sports legends, with a twist. Through James, we learn the entire Cleveland Cavaliers team are rabid Downton Abbey fans.
Some of Trainwreck is typical Apatow” flywheel of comedy” where riffs are improved upon and further improved upon, then edited for best takes. An example here is the building up of descriptions of a used tampon going from merely unpleasantly gross to “the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones.” The movie runs long—and part is to fill in the spaces and to keep the arguments from seeming too abrupt. Up until its slapdash ending, Trainwreck emphasizes the shifts of moods over mere riffing.
Has there been a performer like Schumer since Mae West, who also wasn’t very tall, and certainly not that classical looking, who seemed to excel in many different formats –Schumer is a prime comedy dancer, with enough chops that you don’t feel sorry for her when she’s out on the floor. Has there been a performer since Mae West who took such ardor in sex and had such natural resistance to slut shaming? Considering how different Schumer is from her predecessors is what makes Trainwreck gets exciting. You start to detect a new kind of screen comedy—Schumer’s persona is anything but a bro disguised as a girl. Throughout Trainwreck—as throughout Schumer’s work– are multiple sharp, reverse-angle points of view on situations that are the essence of feminism… feminism, which is never to be mistaken for a system that claims that women are always right all the time.
Trainwreck exposes the consistently shlocky and derivative quality of Manhattan rom coms in a multi-level attack—Amy keeps stumbling into a movie within a movie titled The Dogwalker starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei as a couple talking about their feelings in barely disguised terms about canine affection. In the “love-montage”, a famous Central Park boulder used as a meeting place for so many cinematic snuggles is denounced as the homeless person’s bathroom. (The rom-com device of having a social inferior offering advice and encouragement is, here, rutty Dave Attell; he’s a cardboard sign guy hanging out outside Amy’s apartment, razzing her.) In silhouette, Schumer commits a comedic defilation of a riverside bench immortalized in Woody Allen’s Manhattan.
Schumer had to compromise to get Trainwreck made, but the compromises are all worth it. It’s her movie, from first voice over (“Don’t judge me”) to the last kiss that has Amy in a favorite Amy Schumer-character position: on her back.
R; 125 Min.