Friday, August 14, 2015

Trainwreck (2015)

Amy Schumer is on fire at the moment. Her Comedy Central sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, recently completed its third season to its greatest critical acclaim and viewership, landing seven nominations in the process (including one for Schumer for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series). Several of her show's sketches have gone viral, notably "Last Fuckable Day" (starring Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette) and "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer," in which a jury of famous men including Paul Giamatti and John Hawkes debate, in a parody of 12 Angry Men, whether or not Schumer is "hot enough for television." Plus, she's made headlines for her outspoken support of feminism, Planned Parenthood, and stricter gun control laws. So headlining a major summer movie, directed by Judd Apatow, that she also wrote and produced is essentially just the icing on the stellar cake of a year she's been having.

Trainwreck stars Schumer as Amy, a writer for a Cosmopolitan-esque magazine whose life is pretty chaotic. She's constantly berated at work by her abrasive boss (Tilda Swinton), and even though she's in a relationship with a dimwitted gym rat (John Cena), she regularly sleeps with random men. Her younger sister Kim (Brie Larson) is happily married, but their relationship is strained by Amy's commitment-phobia and her close relationship with their ne'er-do-well dad (Colin Quinn), who taught both girls early on that monogamy is a lie. However, Amy's worldview is challenged when she meets Aaron (Bill Hader), a sports doctor she interviews for the magazine. Aaron could be the perfect guy for her, and nothing terrifies her more.

On the surface, this is exactly the sort of setup that one of Schumer's sketches would skewer: a traditional romantic-comedy story that would get turned on its head to reach a new, feminist angle. And the film does exactly that, only at feature length, it finds room to toss in some other ideas too, to varying degrees of success.

More after the jump.

Schumer's wry observational humor and pop-culture riffing is exactly the sort of sensibility that the romantic comedy genre has needed for a while. Some of the film's greatest gags come from Amy's work life, where she and her fellow writers have to come up with horrifying Buzzfeed-like listicles about ugly celebrity babies and whether garlic changes the taste of semen. Similarly, Schumer's script is rich with insights into interpersonal relationships. Her observations on one-night stands and committed romantic relationships are refreshing for the genre, and the portrayals of Amy's relationships with Kim and her father are easily the film's richest. The film's true strength is that it gives the main characters and their relationships room to grow and develop; this goes a long way toward making the film's "we all know one" tagline relatable on a deeper level.

It helps, too, that the performances are fairly strong across the board. Schumer, of course, is spectacular as Amy, bringing self-assured confidence to the character and showing a dramatic range that she's rarely revealed on her eponymous show. If the show hadn't already made her a star, this film would have accomplished the feat easily. Hader brings a terrific nervy (and nerdy) energy to Aaron, and he uses his experience as a consummate screen partner on Saturday Night Live to create fantastic chemistry with Schumer. It's not hard to imagine Amy and Aaron as a real couple thanks to their efforts. Larson is typically sublime, too, and Swinton continues to prove that she is a master chameleon through her delightfully caustic performance. Of the real-life jocks in the cast, Cena fares better than LeBron James. This isn't to say James, playing himself, is necessarily bad; he does the most with his limited range and easy charisma to sell his jokes. But Cena is an absolute riot in his few scenes, displaying an excellent self-awareness and sensitivity that helps him steal just about every scene he's in.

However, the film does suffer from a key issue: timing. Some scenes tend to drag past the point of being fun, or worse, start with a stale joke and keep pushing it. This isn't necessarily the fault the writing or the performers, but rather Apatow's direction. In the past, Apatow has proven himself to be a fresh comedic voice, bridging raunch and heart to romantic comedies and enlivening the genre with films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) and Knocked Up (2007). However, even those films struggled with filling their padded running time. With Trainwreck, he continues a downward trend in his direction that began with the slightly-underrated Funny People (2009), struggling to maintain the momentum in some scenes and letting jokes meander when they should be hitting hard. It helps that he's working with gifted performers and an intelligent script (the first he's directed that he hasn't co-written), but he gets in the film's way by not trimming out what isn't working.

All of that said, Trainwreck is still a remarkably funny, smart, and nuanced romantic comedy, easily the best of that genre in years. Schumer's established herself as a refreshing voice and a talented actor; here's hoping that this film is only the beginning of an exciting and terrific career for her. B+

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