Amazing Amy: Trainwreck Review

When it comes to modern film comedies, the above average ensemble is too frequently treasured over the singular star. Sure, Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, etc. are given chances to unambiguously lead the show. But usually, comedic actors are herded together in an attempt to simultaneously spark magic. This approach can work wonderfully in TV, which is why shows like Veep and Silicon Valley are some of the medium’s funniest contemporary works. And the ensemble format even can work well on the big screen[1], as various comedic talents vie for the laugh or propel one another. But ultimately, there are few things more satisfying than seeing a project fueled by an individual comic’s voice.

Trainwreck is one such comedy. Amy Schumer, comedic supernova in the making, plays the similarly named Amy, a sexually adventurous thirtysomething writing for an irreverent men’s magazine. Assigned with penning a piece about up-and-coming sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), Amy must confront her feelings of love for her journalistic subject. Meanwhile, Amy and her sister Kim (Brie Larson) are forced to put their ailing father in a nursing home while reconciling their feelings for each other and their irresponsible dad. Both of these branches test Amy’s will to live in the comfortable haze of her youth or evolve long held perceptions about herself and those around her.

Though the plot may sound like a fairly simplistic entry in the romantic comedy genre, Schumer injects herself as a distinctly fresh character in it. Schumer wrote the script herself, giving particular beats and plotlines in the film an air of autobiography that could not have been achieved in an ensemble setting. The comedienne’s trademark brand of self-conscious superficiality (which she has imbued in her stand-up and Peabody Award winning show Inside Amy Schumer) is ever present in the material. In so many ways, she feels like a twenty first century, feminist upgrade of the archetype Woody Allen perfected decades ago.[2] Though Schumer’s raunchy, unapologetic brand of comedy is certainly not for everyone, it cannot be denied as unabashedly bold and contemporary. Deep down, her character knows what the right answer is but that does not make the necessary lessons any easier, as tangible change in life must often be learned the hard way. But so much of the film’s comedy comes from Amy’s unwillingness to change. Here is a woman who eats what she wants, sleep with whomever she wants, drinks with wanton abandon, and is not willing to take crap from anyone. In an age of superhero movies, Schumer represents a brand of vicarious wish fulfillment that squads like the Avengers cannot quite live up to.

hader lebron

Likewise, Hader continues to make his post Saturday Night Live mark, particularly here as Amy’s love interest, Aaron. While Aaron could easily been played statically as a “too-good-to-be-true” fantasy, Hader plays Aaron as a character filled with his own quirks and insecurities (though not nearly as many as Amy). Hader, proved by his time on SNL, is a natural at playing to whatever the part demands, never forcing a false note. Where Amy is chaos, Aaron is a constant. Since Trainwreck is a romantic comedy, of course Amy and Aaron will end up together. But where other movies would take their destinations as a given, this film makes both characters earn it, leaving you truly in doubt at points as to the two’s ultimate fate. Schumer’s deft understanding of these clichés makes the dancing around them all the more enjoyable.

While Trainwreck makes no qualms about being a cinematic extension of the Amy Schumer brand, it has many more memorable characters to add to the whole. Aaron’s relation to the sports world allows for numerous athletes to stop by for glorified cameos. Look out for a drugged up Amar’e Stoudemire, a heartfelt charity speech from Tony Romo, and even an intervention commentary from Marv Albert. Perhaps most surprising is LeBron James’s presence in the film. The basketball star effortlessly hits his lines and has great chemistry with Hader[3]. In the right hands, the Akron Hammer just might have a future on the silver screen.[4] All these little touches of reality, in tandem to the film’s themes of self-worth and commitment, firmly root Trainwreck excitingly in the world of 2015.

Trainwreck’s deliberate collision of family strife, romantic quests, comedic misadventures, and sports medicine is all fantastically held together by director Judd Apatow. Where Schumer is the millennial take on Woody Allen, Apatow fashions himself as a contemporary James L Brooks. The comedic auteur knows how to find the drama and the comedy and vice versa. It is easy for a movie to go for laughs at every available chance rather than let the audience catch a breath with poignant breaks of sentiment. Apatow nixes quick witted absurdity for a more honest, slice-of-life measure of comedy. This is not mean to suggest the film lacks funny moments; every scene has multiple gut-busting laughs that serve the story rather than derailing it.

In fact, a frequent complaint against Apatow could be leveled against Trainwreck: the run time. All of the director’s films to date[5] have ventured right up to or beyond the two hour mark, which can be dangerous waters for comedies to swim in. Past the hour and forty minute mark, comedies risk growing stale and unnecessarily extending their premise. Apatow’s 2009 film Funny People was an apt example of a filmmaker testing the boundaries of his own sensibilities and nobly failing. Trainwreck, however, is a film where Apatow has finally met his comedic equal (or even superior). With Amy’s story in the driver’s seat, Apatow’s funny asides are forced to be judged into relation to Schumer’s overarching story. Clever jokes or odd-ball characters[6] all feel smoothly filtered through Schumer’s script rather than being forced in for an unearned laugh. Schumer and Apatow make for a great comedic team and we would all be served by future collaborations between the two.

Even yet, some conversations go on a touch longer than necessary, as the bare essentials required for moving the plot along are covered about midway through any given section of dialogue. Shaving a minute here and two there would have made for a leaner and cleaner film. But to what end? Real life conversations often go well beyond their necessary length and they are rarely as hilarious as the ones you will find in Trainwreck. If we tolerate movies about orcs and wizards running a little long, what’s the harm in letting one that has something to say about the world we live in?

4.5 out of 5 stars

Film Title: Trainwreck

[1] See Tropic Thunder and Wet Hot American Summer.

[2] The film even pays an irreverent visual nod to the legendary filmmaker.

[3] Though the SNL alum seems to make it easy for everyone.

[4] The debate of Jordan vs. James on the court will always rage but I’ll give James the edge on stage. Case in point: Space Jam vs Trainwreck. Nuff said…

[5] Which include The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, This is 40, and now Trainwreck.

[6] Like the faux art house film starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei (The Dogwalker) or Dave Attell’s homeless beggar/heckler.

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