Movie Review: Trainwreck (2015)
Everyone is calling “Trainwreck” an Amy Schumer film since she’s the hot new thing, but it really is a Judd Apatow film. It feels like a Judd Apatow film. It’s funny, avoids many of the obvious grooves and pitfalls of the genre, and gives us moments of genuine interaction between people. Not bad. Then it’ll push the envelope for comic effect. Characters will riff too long, and the movie itself will go on too long. This thing is 125 minutes, about a half hour longer than it should be, but not bad for Apatow. Cf., 134 minutes for “This is 40” and 146 minutes for “Funny People.”
Does Apatow even have an editor? Couldn’t you, for example, have cut the intervention scene with LeBron, Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick and Marv Alpert and lost nothing? Couldn’t you have cut a lot of LeBron’s scenes? LeBron, playing himself, is good, startlingly so, and the line about watching “Downton Abbey” that night because “I’m not going to practice tomorrow and all the guys are talking about it and I’m left out,” well, that made me laugh out loud. But his character is two-note and the two notes are kind of contradictory: 1) He’s super-sensitive that his friend will be hurt—in the way of women looking after their friends—and, 2) his advice to his friend is always from LeBron’s rarefied realm. Meaning for multimillionaire celebrity-athletes who fend off groupies.
At the same time, “Trainwreck” is different from other Apatow films in two related ways. It’s the first movie he directed that he didn’t write (Schumer did), and its lead is a woman behaving badly rather than a man behaving badly. In this way it’s considered transgressive.
Woman behaving badly
Schumer plays Amy, a girl who sleeps around like a guy. She hates to cuddle, never stays over, and receives more than she gives.
She’s also a journalist at a lad mag called S’Nuff and a favorite of the Tina Browne-ish editor there, Dianna (Tilda Swinton, inspired and awful), even though she’s a lousy journalist. At an edit meeting, she comes up with no new ideas but is handed somebody else’s: a feature profile on a sports surgeon, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). When she finally visits him in his office, she’s done zero research. She doesn’t know that his client list includes the biggest names in the game, and when one of those names, LeBron James, steps in for a quick chat (about, among other things, “Downton Abbey”), she doesn’t know who he is.
Then she sleeps with her subject before she’s written the piece.
But journalistic ethics aren’t the point of the movie. The point is she changes. She likes Aaron. He makes her want to be a better woman. Wait, scratch that. She actually keeps trying to break it off. Plus there are subplots:
- She and her sister, Kim (Brie Larson), talk about moving their curmudgeon father (Colin Quinn), into a cheaper assisted living facility.
- Kim is more staid and goody-two-shoes, and the two sisters generally clash.
- Her editor doesn’t like the piece on Aaron because he’s boring.
Per the rom-com formula, Amy and Aaron have to break it off to set up the final act. So Amy leaves a ceremony where Aaron is receiving a “Doctors Without Borders” award for a phone call from Dianna; then she argues with Aaron all night even though he has to operate on Amar’e Stoudemire the next day. When Aaron asks for a temporary break in their relationship, she uses it as an excuse to exit the building completely. Cue: montage of each in their separate world.
Why does she get fired from S’Nuff again? Oh, right. She sleeps with an intern (Ezra Miller), who turns out to be 16. Mostly, though, it’s because it’s the formula. She has to leave the soul-destroying job in order to get back her soul. Then she rewrites the piece on Aaron and sells it to Vanity Fair. She fails up as a journalist in the digital age. Done and done. With the drinking, too. She cleans out bottles, and that’s that. Finally, she wins Aaron back by dancing with Aaron’s clients, the Knicks City dancers. Yes, she becomes a cheerleader, but an Amy version of a cheerleader.
That’s our happy ending. Because no one does “Annie Hall” anymore.
Slightly outside Amy Schumer
- Bill Hader, who might be the best actor to ever come off of “Saturday Night Live.” Yes. He was completely believable as the younger, gay brother in “The Skeleton Twins,” and he’s completely believable here as a staid, well-meaning celebrity surgeon. He feels like a doctor. I would go to him if I had pain in my knee. I don’t know how Hader does that.
- Tilda Swinton, who is virtually unrecognizable as Dianna.
- Amy’s eulogy for her father, which is more honest and heartfelt than 99 percent of anything you will see in the movies this year.
- Amy’s relationship with her sister, which seems real. Plus she and Brie actually look like sisters.
- Most of the familial relationships. Apatow does family well.
I saw “Trainwreck” with two women, both of whom loved it. For me it was mixed, for the reasons stated above, and because simply switching genders on the douche-guy role isn’t that interesting. It’s not as transgressive as Schumer’s own comedy, for example. Maybe eventually.