Trianwreck 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.
This Is 40 Directed by: Judd Apatow Written by: Judd Apatow (screenplay) Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow and Iris Apatow
Paul Rudd is the only main character in Judd Apatow’s latest movie who isn’t part of the comedy auteur’s actual nuclear family. The wife (Leslie Mann) and two children (Maude and Iris Apatow) are basically playing out better-written scenarios of their lives with a cuter dad.
This makes everything about This Is 40 feel both a little weirder and a little more alive; it’s like making your family relive an awkward Christmas on camera. Apatow is a keen observer of white upper middle class life, though his considerable success as writer, director and producer over the past few years has made his class standing considerably higher than that. This movie is his best since his other movie with 40 in the title, albeit much more pensive and mature.
Tiny Furniture Directed by: Lena Dunham Written by: Lena Dunham (screenplay) Starring: Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Grace Dunham and Laurie Simmons
Lena Dunham is an expert when it comes to enhancing lives that would normally be lived in miniature. In her excellent feature debut, Tiny Furniture, Dunham magnifies the life of Aura, a recent college graduate who moves back home and seems stuck in neutral. In addition to writing and directing this film, Lena also plays the title character and has her actual mother and sister star as fictional versions of her mother and sister. Tiny Furniture is the definition of an independent film, and its formal sophistication and biting wit show up lesser attempts like Paranormal Activity.
Dunham landed a gig on HBO with the Judd Apatow-produced Girls in part because of Tiny Furniture. The premise of that show is largely the same as this debut film on a larger scale. Dunham plays a young woman struggling professionally, financially and sexually. She does this quite well, reciting her own dialogue with an off-beat delivery that is a hybrid of a mumblecore character and actual human being.
Thankfully, Dunham also knows how to compose a shot as well as a sentence. Though it’s clear that Tiny Furniture was made on a bare bones budget (some of the side characters are the wrong kind of awkward on camera), it is a very aesthetically pleasing film to look at. This is mostly because the upper class New York lifestyle that Aura’s mother (Laurie Simmons) and sister (Grace Dunham) inhabit is posh to begin with.
Bridesmaids Directed by: Paul Feig Written by: Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig (screenplay) Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, and Melissa McCarthy
Behold something new in Bridesmaids. It’s possible that such an innovation, which is buried beneath a mound of plot cliches and character types, will go unnoticed by the masses. It is simply this: Bridesmaids takes pieces of the old genres and makes them new. It is the successful merging of the male-targeted buddy comedy with the female-targeted romantic comedy.
When two genres merge, the film either tends to lean hard on one element or another, but Bridesmaids carefully walks the tightrope between both in an effective, hilarious mix.
Dinner for Schmucks Directed by: Jay Roach Written by: David Guion & Michael Handelman Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, and Jemaine Clement
The mainstream American comedy is in trouble. Like the America pre-economic meltdown, it’s been lulled into a state of laziness. Audiences are being tricked into the same movie over and over again by slick, money-grubbing studio executives, not unlike those bankers and brokers. And so here we are with Dinner for Schmucks, the latest comic swindler from the modern studio system.
At the helm, if it even matters, is director Jay Roach, who previously brought us Meet the Parents, a funny if not overwhelmingly original movie with a diverse cast that drew in a lot of different people. With this movie, we get the inevitable pairing of Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, who first worked together on the 40 Year Old Virgin.
Superbad Directed by: Greg Mottola Written by: Evan Goldberg Starring: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Emma Stone, Seth Rogen
For the sake of our generation and the half-baked high school sex comedies that work (or won’t) to define it, there is an artist who is making sure that our comedies won’t be remembered by sex with pie, hangovers, ogres or those Sex and the City girls.
In Superbad he is only credited as a producer, but the film is loaded with a posse of writing partners, actors and talent who’ve all hitched their wagons to his success. It also resonates the style of the writer/director/producer in terms of narrative aesthetics, vulgar content, sentiment, male ego and penis jokes which he has vowed in every one his projects.
Judd Apatow, soon after finding endless success as a producer for Will Ferrell filth and once-roommate Adam Sandler, began rewriting Hollywood’s biggest scripts and becoming a critically adored creator of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, started a brand for himself in comedy which now rivals John Hughes or Ben Stiller. Up until Superbad it’s all been for grown-ups (thankfully not with that latest Sandler hit, Grown Ups).