Directed by: Judd Apatow
Written by: Amy Schumer
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson and Tilda Swinton
When Amy Schumer wants you to laugh, she widens her eyes, puts her hand on her chest and looks around the room, her expression saying “What? Was it something I said?” Her punchlines are moments of intentional ignorance, her self-proclaimed “dumb white girl” persona. She is a ruthless interrogator of body image and her own sex life, finding humor in the ways they both clash with the relentless standards of Vogue and Cosmopolitan. Her material on race, on the other hand, can come off as unintentionally ignorant and cruel. That’s why I was grateful for her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer, because while she is often a very funny teller, her comedic persona lends itself much better to showing.
With Trainwreck, which Schumer wrote and stars in, that persona is evolved into something fully, often uncomfortably human. Her character, Amy Townsend, is a writer for a straight dude lifestyle magazine, not unlike Lena Dunham’s short-lived gig at GQ in the third season of her HBO show Girls. Both the show and the movie have a hilariously warped view of the office culture at these publications, though Girls is decidedly nicer and focuses more on Dunham’s character’s inability to thrive in such an environment. Amy does thrive in this knowingly stupid world, where articles like “You’re not gay, she’s just boring,” are routine pitches in an afternoon meeting.
Girls and Trainwreck also have a much more important thing in common: Judd Apatow, who executive produces and occasionally writes for Dunham’s show and directs Schumer here. The intersection of his and Schumer’s comedic sensibilities is sloppy but often successful. There are a few scenes that fall completely flat here, most of them involving cameos, but for the most part it’s bitter, sweet romance.
When she was a little girl, Amy (the character) was told by her father (Colin Quinn) that monogamy is not natural. Sitting next to her younger sister, she listens to her dad compare cheating on their mother to the dolls they’re holding. They wouldn’t want to have just one doll their whole life, would they? Her father puts on quite a grotesque display, but his words stay with her into adulthood.
The scene is shot with a washed-out, home movie quality, as if it’s meant to be nostalgic. It’s a middle finger to nostalgic flashbacks, just as the shot where she felates her boyfriend (Bill Hader) on a bench overlooking the Queensboro Bridge is a middle finger to Woody Allen romance. (“Oh, I think this is where Woody Allen met Soon-Yi,” her character says in voiceover during the scene).
The formal abrasiveness fits in quite well with Amy’s prickly, bitter worldview. She is visibly uncomfortable around her sister (Brie Larson) and her overly earnest husband and son. Some of the movie’s most hilarious moments involve a simple cut to her disgusted, sickened reaction to something chipper they say.
However, for all its crassness, Trainwreck has quite a gooey center, not unlike Apatow’s other, bro-ier films. (Spoilers ahead) Though Amy’s father is quite disgusting, both in his introductory scene and as an increasingly hopeless resident in a nursing home, when he dies she gives a moving tribute. She’s brought to tears while calling him a racist asshole at his funeral. She polls the audience, asking them if they were ever offended by her dad and then if he was one of their favorite people. Everyone except her blaze, blonde Miranda Priestly of a boss (yes, that’s the great Tilda Swinton) raises their hand. It’s here that Trainwreck, and Apatow and Schumer, bare their souls.
At the core of the movie is the idea of looking past a loved one’s nastiness, of seeing through their unchangeable awfulness. It’s something Aaron (Hader) has to do quite a bit of throughout the movie (Amy is, after all, her father’s daughter). The two meet while Amy is profiling Aaron, who is a surgeon for major league athletes, for a piece in the magazine. She sleeps with her subject and unexpectedly falls for him, abandoning her life as a Samantha and becoming a Carrie. Much of the romantic conflict (and comedy) hinges on her reluctance to be in love and her shock when it actually happens. When Aaron wants to cuddle after sex, the camera focuses on her uncomfortable, horrified stare; her first impulse when they’re about to fight is to end everything, rather than work it out.
They do work things out, albeit a bit too conveniently. Amy gives up all her alcohol and pulls off a grand, romantic gesture to win Aaron back after their Big Fight. She tries to keep up with a bunch of basketball cheerleaders while doing a dance for Aaron, and she often succeeds before falling flat on her face after trying to dunk a basketball. It’s a cute scene, but too tidy for a main character this messy. Their issues resolve themselves almost magically in a movie that, until then, was an intriguing comedy about reluctant romance.