By Kyle G. King. Amy Schumer has undoubtedly had a huge year. Between hosting the 2015 MTV Movie Awards, rallying the success of her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer, and screenwriting and starring in her first Hollywood feature, she’s quickly been labeled comedy’s “It Girl” of 2015 (not by us, we would never use that phrase). This budding success has brought the focused lens of the American public eye to both dissect and understand her. Although stand-up comedians are certainly known to push social boundaries with controversial material regarding race, Schumer has a consistently shaky history of pointing extremely offensive jokes at people of color. But before you dismiss this as a review by just another PC dweeb unable to take a joke, read on as I dissect the culmination of Schumer’s brand of prosaic raunchy humor in her debut rom-com, Trainwreck.
Once the mantra “monogamy is not realistic” is properly drilled into her head by her womanizing, vindictive, and in-the-process-of-divorce father (played by naturally aging curmudgeon Colin Quinn), Amy Townsend (Schumer) grows up to do whatever and whoever she wants. Whatever she wants turns out to be a respected writing job at an illustrious (and semi-satirical) men’s magazine called S’Nuff; whoever she wants turns out to be a long line of nameless dudes. But what begins as a sex-positive story of female agency quickly morphs into an oddly reminiscent gender-swapped script from the 90’s. It almost reads like a filmic social experiment after Amy explains her rules of no spending the night, no cuddling, and no taking calls the day after sleeping with someone — these devices are directly ripped from bro male characters of other raunchy comedies. Yet just like her more sketchy stand-up bits on race, Trainwreck is a vessel for Schumer’s mishandling of stereotypes and failure to elevate them to progressive ideas.
Amy Townsend works as a rom-com version of Schumer’s long line of bitter party girl personas from both her show and stand-up routines. And while director Judd Apatow helps to sand the rough emotional edges to fit a big screen character, it’s a convoluted battle between the independent feminist tendencies of Schumer and the conventional family templates of an Apatovian feature. Trainwreck is two movies we’ve seen before blended into one that’s confused about itself. Amy has moments with her conflicted morality, where she reflects on herself and her “trainwreck” ways — which provides some of the best material of the script — but that rich character momentum is trampled by the inevitable notion that sex and romance are only truly “good” when you can finally settle down — a proven Apatow cop-out. Not only does this undermine Amy’s character entirely, it makes her a boring character in a rather boring story.
One of the biggest appeals of movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up is Apatow’s proclivity to keep the camera rolling to see where actors can take a scene. In its final theatrical cut Trainwreck runs too long, plodding along desperately searching for laughs. Michael Jackson and To Catch a Predator jokes are hokey — even the trailer knew that, as it opted for a better punchline about how Amy’s sister Kim (Brie Larson) dresses her husband “so nobody else will have sex with him.” Jokes tend to be richer and better for a story if you poke fun at your fictional characters organically rather than cheaply appropriating things have been around for years (and, you know, child molestation is usually not that funny).
Some of the saving graces of Trainwreck are within its cast. Schumer does prove herself as a comic-drama one-two punch, perhaps shadowing the trail Apatow set with Steve Carell. Professional athletes LeBron James and John Cena make some of the funniest gags within the film’s overstretched 125-minute running time. Tilda Swinton is almost unrecognizable (yet a snug fit) as Amy’s tanned magazine boss who emasculates her without a second thought. While Brie Larson provides a great dramatic performance that anchors a lot of the emotional turns for Amy’s character, Bill Hader steps forward as the film’s foremost heart and soul.
The argument of taking raunchy material “too seriously” has little ground to stand on when jokes go no further than grade-school-level shock value. Whether it’s Apatow trying to prove he can be edgier or Schumer trying to prove she can be softer, very little of it evens out as Trainwreck proves to be… well, not a complete trainwreck, but a lot like that holiday trip to your racist grandmother’s house: it’s familiar, it’s uncomfortable, and they’re called brazil nuts, grandma. Yikes.