Ireland, and myself, came really late to this one, Judd Apatow’s latest return to the fertile ground of 20/30 something romantic comedy. Having long since absorbed the positive press the film garnered upon its release across the pond, I was looking forward to seeing if Apatow, with American comedy darling Amy Schumer along to both write and star, could deliver what he has before. Was Trainwreck the genre inverter it is claimed to be, or is just another tired rom-com trying to be different with extra vulgarity?
Amy (Schumer) lives a carefree lifestyle in New York, regularly indulging in booze, drugs and casual sex with a succession of men, barely making time for nominal boyfriend Steven (John Cena), while her married sister Kim (Brie Larson) stresses over their fathers (Colin Quinn) move to a retirement home. When Amy, as part of her job with a men’s magazine, is assigned a story about sports surgeon Aaron (Bill Hader), she finds herself falling for him, and struggles with reconciling this with her disbelief in the concept of monogamy.
Trainwreck really does bill itself largely around the nominal role reversal taking place with its lead characters, insofar that the boozed up “trainwreck” of a person in the lead role is not, as per usual, the male part of the rom-com equation, but the woman, with Schumer’s Amy a far cry from the usual part that women find themselves playing in films of this genre. The film opens with her younger self getting a fatherly lecture on the impracticalities of monogamy, and then turns rapidly to the same character treating everyone around her, from lovers to family members, as badly as possible.
She is only the latest step in a series of recent films that have been altering the way that women are portrayed in rom-com’s – in fact, I would say that she is just a slight extension on the Annie character in Bridesmaids, with Schumer’s next film to be helmed by Paul Feig – but is certainly one of the most eye-catching. Rare it is that you will find a female lead in any film, who is an unashamed pot smoker, a user of men for sexual gratification while drunk, and just generally a nasty person in many facets of her life. The idea of a woman feeling that the “nice guy” she is partnered up with is too good for her, the central idea behind the latter half of Trainwreck, is not new, but the way that Trainwreck goes about it sort of is.
It can be very hard to get behind Amy as any sort of heroine. She’s just so horrible, in a way that I feel might be inspired by, to an extent, by the sort of comedy that has Lena Dunham’s Girls on its pedestal, a series I personally never had much time for, but that Trainwreck does, in my estimation, find a way to top, maybe because this look at a reprehensible woman is curtailed, and not drawn out into several seasons of television. Sex jokes, or rather shock value discussions of sex that produce laughter because of their audacity, are the norm, and while they won’t be to a lot of peoples taste, and I did their impact dulled by the conclusion, they do make Trainwreck a bit more interesting than the sort of rom-com that has gone by the wayside in Hollywood.
Trainwreck stands and falls on plenty of stand-alone scenes that smack of sketch comedy – Schumer’s pedigree in TV – that include a wide array of bit characters who pop up for a few jokes here and there, and are mainly effective in what they are designed to do. But around all of that you have the actual love plot, and taking away the sex, the language and drugs, you have something that is fairly basic. Girl meets boy, love montage, problems, break-p, resolution, happy ending. You might cry “spoilers!” but I don’t really care: In terms of its narrative structure, Trainwreck is immanently predictable, and this prevents me from classing it among the higher canon of comedy films, or even as the best comedy film I have seen this year.
I suppose that this is partly excused by the stuff surrounding the main plot it that’s more unique, the characters that jump in and out of the narrative as required: John Cena as a clueless gym obsessed freak of nature, Amy’s alarmingly uncaring British editor boss, the intern with very creepy fetishes (that “Pineapple” moment, perhaps the best in the whole film), the interactions between Amy and the homeless guy outside her apartment, etc. Much like The Heat then, Trainwreck can be enjoyed as this compilation of barely connected moments. Like many/most modern rom-coms, it also has plenty of time for serious turns, but none of them ever last too long, and they are blatantly manipulative in many ways.
That’s not all Trainwreck has of course. It’s use of celebrities, especially the aforementioned John Cena – if you can get past the scary way his body looks in terms of muscle mass – and a brilliant turn by basketball superstar Lebron James, is fantastic, and one of my favourite scenes in the film was Bill Hader’s Aaron being stiffed on a lunch bill by a weasely James who “doesn’t want to end up like MC Hammer” while intensely campaigning for Cleveland as a holiday hotspot. Hader himself is actually a really strong part of the film, playing the straight man to Schumer’s more “out there” counterpart really well. Schumer herself is really decent, though at times it might be hard to muster up any kind of sympathy for her, her plight or lifestyle choices.
If you’re any kind of fan of Apatow or Feig, you’ll find plenty in Trainwreck to make you laugh, though you have to be prepared for a great deal of sexual jokes, above all other things. Schumer’s script is full of a certain spikiness in its demeanour and characterisation, for none more so than Amy herself, and perhaps only she and her unique delivery could make the more sordid and raunchy material work to the extent that it does. Right from the start the film is looking to shock to varying degrees, as we open with Amy and her sister receiving an analogy about adultery that talks about the girls having to only play with one doll for the rest of their lives, before jumping ahead in time to Amy casually asking “Have you fucked before? Where is she buried?” to a one night stand with an apparently large penis. People like Hader, Cena and Larson are required to simply set her up and bounce off her, and these interactions all work well enough. And, while the script is as guilty as anything is setting up a formulaic rom-com structure, you can still get smiles from the way that Schumer tried to get away from that, narrating her dating montage with Aaron by wondering why they weren’t mugged on a day out at the park.
In the end, I found myself enjoying must of what Trainwreck had to offer, but it is only fair to say that I don’t think it will age particularly well, especially as the tone of these sorts of movies continues to become more ribald and more women-centric. Schumer should be applauded for the film she wrote and starred in here, committing to the “trainwreck” of a character that she portrayed, and Apatow’s hand behind the camera is as solid and reliable as you’d expect. But, in the end, it is just your standard rom-com fare just with that edge to it in terms of the raw sexuality being portrayed. Good for a two hour (a bit long maybe) diversion, but Trainwreck isn’t really a classic of comedy in my eyes. With that reservation, it is still a film that I can recommend.
(All images are copyright of Universal Pictures).