Trainwreck is the Amy Schumer show masquerading (pretty successfully) as an R-rated romantic comedy. If every film is essentially a series of ingredients mixed up in a bowl and served as the sum of all those ingredients you could say this recipe is 60% Amy Schumer and 60% Judd Apatow. That is to say, there’s just a little too much of each.
Schumer has made a healthy career as a smart, crude, misandrist-like comedian whose stand-up routines could make Andrew Dice Clay feel awkward. She’s a strong woman who daftly points out irregularities in gender, sex and sexuality and does so with wit and intelligence. She says things about men that male comedians have been saying about women for years. As if to say “the world is stupid and here I am to tell you all how stupid you are.” I have a feeling it comes easy to her, and in a perfect world she would be the norm.
But, as with most comedians, this is a visage. She makes a living saying the one thing A) she isn’t supposed to say because she is a woman, B) that a man might typically say, and/or C) that would be the most shocking. And she’s terrific at her day job. That visage is how she wrote the character in the film, which is simply her stage persona on the big screen. And thankfully she’s so smart she’s able to pull it off.
Considering this is Schumer’s introduction to the world, for the most part, she has to display her persona in full force, for better or for worse. She plays a wise-ass with commitment issues who likes to drink and smoke weed. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the male part of every R-rated romantic comedy, especially Apatow comedies. She likes to sleep around and has trouble with intimacy. Hell, there’s a whole sub-genre of sit-com characters based on those same traits (“Two and a Half Men” and “How I Met Your Mother” for instance). This gender-swapping definitely adds an unfamiliar and welcomed element to the picture. But while it’s fresh and different that the character is played by a female in this movie, it’s still a character we’ve seen 1000 times before. This one is just a little funnier. Sadly, this means you can’t predict what she’ll say next but you can certainly figure out what she’ll do next.
Now, what I’ve just described is Schumer’s 60% of this film. She wrote the screenplay and is the lead actor. The character’s name is “Amy”. There is no separation of actor and character. There are definitely scenes that play out like comedy sketches (as might be featured on her show “Inside Amy Schumer”) and bits from her stand-up routine. Most of these scenes are funny but the problem is they feel like sketches and stand-up bits. They are pure set-up for her to make an outrageous or offensive remark, and because of this it doesn’t feel like organic comedy. In other words, it’s written so the narrative sets up the comedy instead of the comedy moving the narrative forward.
Unfortunately, this is where the 60% of Judd Apatow comes into play. He’s made a living making tangential films with paper-thin, clichéd stories that are mere window dressings for his troupe of improvisational actors (Seth Rogan, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, etc). This film isn’t paper-thin, but it is littered with more than enough tangents and clichés. Bits like the “You know how I know you’re gay….” scene from The 40 Year-Old Virgin are everywhere in this movie, but most of them are quite funny. The scenes with LeBron James, in particular, standout as funny if not completely unnecessary scenes. And for a movie that runs over 2 hours they can drag the story down. The John Cena plotline at the beginning of the film is a perfect example of a useless, largely unfunny tangent with no payoff. I have a feeling they knew they had a clichéd story and tried to be funny enough to cover it up. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, like most Apatow productions.
The bottom line is Amy Schumer is a really funny and really smart comedian who has established her brand. Judd Apatow is a funny and smart filmmaker who has also established a brand. While the two brands often times meld in the right places, there are enough times that the marriage is too much. Where the film at its best is when it is subverting gender roles, and that is 100% Schumer’s writing and comedic talents. Thankfully, Schumer and Bill Hader are charming and funny enough that the outcome is largely positive.
Hope you enjoy!