Alibi V.24 No.29 • July 16-22, 2015 

Film Review

Trainwreck

Judd Apatow + Amy Schumer = Love

Nothing starts an evening right like a couple of Boilermakers.
Nothing starts an evening right like a couple of Boilermakers.

Trainwreck (2015)

Directed by Judd Apatow

Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson

Judd Apatow has solidified his reputation in Hollywood by directing a string of appealingly raunchy, late-in-life coming-of-age comedies (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This Is 40). So it’s no shock to see his latest, Trainwreck, featuring more of the same. The film is chockablock with bad behavior, adult humor and punch lines that are impossible to repeat in front of your parents. It’s easily one of the funniest films of the summer. But what makes this such an unexpected pleasure is his latest choice of collaborators, sketch comedy star du jour Amy Schumer.

Though Trainwreck is Apatow’s first fully female-centric film, it doesn’t look very different from his previous paeans to stunted growth—at least at first. Schumer (who wrote the script herself) stars as Amy, a New York-based writer for a lowest-common-denominator men’s magazine (sample article: “The 10 Ugliest Celebrity Children Under 6 Years Old”). Amy’s an unapologetic party girl. She drinks to excess, smokes pot and tries to sleep with as many men as possible. This “no consequences” lifestyle appears to be leftover baggage from her alcoholic, womanizing father (comedian Colin Quinn), who ditched out on the family when Amy and her sister were quite young. It’s a selfish and immature attitude, but it works for her.

Assigned by her editor (Tilda Swinton in a fun cameo) to write an article on a famous sports medicine doctor named Aaron (former “SNL” star Bill Hader), Amy grudgingly accepts. (She hates sports.) One interview and several drinks later, and Amy has jumped into bed with Aaron. For her, it’s pretty much par for the course. Post-coitus, she finds herself unable to ditch out on him and ends up spending the night (a no-no in her book of rules). The next day, he calls and asks if they can see each other again, confirming Amy’s worst fears—Aaron is a nice guy. She has no idea what to do with a nice guy. “Monogamy is a lie” is the mantra her father taught her, and she lives by it. Against Amy’s ... well, we can’t say better judgment. Against her bad judgment, she starts dating Aaron.

Don’t let the cuteness fool you.
Don’t let the cuteness fool you.

Here’s where Trainwreck gets better and smarter than your average rom-com. There’s really no reason Amy and Aaron shouldn’t be together. He’s charming and funny and really good to Amy. (He even volunteers for Doctors Without Borders.) He’s exactly the sort of guy she needs to get over her fear of commitment and her generally bruised attitude toward love. In a normal rom-com, of course, the script would fabricate all manner of wacky impediments to the central couple’s permanent connection: crazy misunderstandings, convoluted cases of mistaken identity, a silly mix-up involving an ex-girlfriend. Trainwreck does none of that. The only thing standing between Amy and Aaron is Amy and Aaron. Mostly Amy. It’s all credit to Schumer and the distinct, deeply personal voice she puts into the script. So we’re screwed up. So we make bad decisions. That doesn’t mean we don’t deserve love.

This conflict flows organically from the smartly delineated characters. For the last 25 years or so, our gal Amy has gotten into the habit of defending her father. Sure he’s a jerk, but he’s her dad. Since the divorce, dad’s life has taken a turn for the worse. Handicapped by multiple sclerosis, he’s stuck in an assisted living home and hating life even more than normal. Younger sister Kim (Brie Larson) has grown up to be the exact opposite of Amy. She’s happily married to an ordinary, upstanding guy. In arguments she takes the conflicting view of Amy’s, standing up for their poor, departed mother. This comes to a head in a pitched battle over dad’s health care. Should he be moved to a more expensive facility or demoted to something more bare bones?

These are odd conversations to be having in the middle of a salty-tongued romantic comedy. But they reveal what’s at the heart of Trainwreck. The thing is Schumer could have taken the easy road here. She’s the hottest thing in comedy right now, headlining Comedy Central’s clip-worthy series “Inside Amy Schumer.” A few memorably scatological jokes and her feature film breakout would have been a guaranteed hit. Nobody was asking her to do serious drama. Nobody expected her to prove her acting chops. And yet, Trainwreck wants to be more than standard, formulaic and forgettable. It’s funny, it’s realistic, it’s heartfelt, and it stings a little at times. Apatow, rising to the challenge, is content to let his camera linger on the occasional emotional moments. Not every scene here has to end with a wisecrack.

There are imperfections, sure. The film features some inspired cameos, mostly from sports stars. (Basketballer LeBron James proves himself a hilarious scene-stealer as Aaron’s clingy best friend.) But by the time Matthew Broderick shows up as himself, it feels like Apatow is just calling in favors. In the final resolution, Trainwreck sheds a lot of its cynicism to deliver just a bit of romantic cheese. At that point, though, it’s hard to begrudge the film and its characters some hard-earned happiness. Like all romantic comedies, it ultimately boils down to chemistry—not between the leads, who are great together—but between the director and star. Apatow gives Schumer’s material the polished Hollywood treatment it deserves. She gives Apatow’s film the mix of raw humor and honest emotion it needs.