' Cinema Romantico: Trainwreck

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trainwreck

The oeuvre of Judd Apatow has frequently been dedicated to the Man-Boy – weed-smoking, video-game playing Peter Pans. These sorts of characters lend themselves to raunchy one-liners and gross-out gags, and because Apatow’s preferred method is to cast comics and/or comic actors and give them space to simply stand on camera and riff, his films are often drawn-out exercises in outrageous joke-telling. Yet for so much slack narration and offensive comicalness, Apatow remains distinctly old-fashioned, committed to familiarly structured late movie redemption, all that ad-libbing meant to approximate an incongruous finding of the maturity ladder’s first rung. If on the surface his romantic comedies have edge, just below they are warm glasses of milk.


And so into this pre-determined Apatow-ian universe marches the redoubtable Amy Schumer, a comic with a critically acclaimed sketch comedy TV show who not only stars in “Trainwreck” but possesses sole screenwriting credit. This may be another Apatow movie overflowing with jokes but they’re her jokes, dammit, and those jokes are often as gleefully jarring as they are funny. “I hope this love montage ends like Jonestown,” she says in voiceover during a quick romantic comedy medley between her and her beau that begins with “Rhapsody in Blue” and homages the famed shot in “Manhattan” beneath the Brooklyn Bridge that promptly twists the screw with Amy wondering if this is where “Woody and Soon Yi met.” Yup. The montage ends like Jonestown, and you can’t help but think maybe with Schumer driving things the movie itself will end like Jonestown too.

Amy works at a gossip rag called S’Nuff where she is supposedly the best writer on staff though the film never goes to any real pains to demonstrate her skills. It’s more concerned, frankly, in simply using S’Nuff as a platform to showcase Amy’s boss, Dianna, played by Tilda Swinton as a space cadet version of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Spray-Tan. The job also provides the device to introduce Amy to her requisite rom-com partner-in-crime, Aaron Connors (Bill Hader), a noted sports doctor to the stars. The star, in fact, as LeBron James plays himself, the Bruno Kirby to Connors’ Billy Crystal. I fail to believe this wasn’t simply a way for Apatow to become on-set pals with LeBron, and so what? If I was Judd I’d be writing scripts that said things like: “Gwen Stefani enters room as herself.” And even if LeBron isn’t quite Ray Allen he’s as funny as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and less stilted too, even if his overwhelming presence sometimes feels like a distraction.


Make no mistake, despite The King, this is Amy’s movie. She is more or less introduced to us with the wicked funny edict “Don’t judge me, fuckers!” At first blush it comes across like a battle cry. Yet all evidence indicates she’s not finding empowerment in ceaseless drinking, smoking and fucking as much unsatisfying denial. Her character has deliberately shied away from commitment for reasons of insecurity and scars from the past, particularly a father (Colin Quinn) who preached the perils of monogamy. Both these ideas are well played by Schumer, particularly in scenes with her sister Kim (Brie Larson, quite good in essentially the film’s lone performance that relies on more reacting than wisecracks), but the film still can’t help but find her solution to this personal crisis in the form of typical Apatow conservatism. Kim, in fact, upset that her sister isn’t following the tried and true path of suburbanites everywhere hollers “This is what people do!”, that age-old assumption that obtusely excludes any number of people who don’t know what she does and negate a few of the whole nine yards.

There is a faint tug of war within this script, one between Amy remaking herself simply for the sake of herself and Amy remaking herself in the name of Mr. Right in order to do what people do. It never really gets resolved; it just kind of collapses in on itself in the form of an overproduced rom com conclusion consisting of a gigantic set-piece marked by theatrical implausibility. And the entire sequence finds the movie and its primary performer singing in different keys – it at the pitch of Happily Ever After and her exuding much more Manic Desperation. Even if “Trainwreck” seems to think its main character has come all the way around, the main character herself resists that viewpoint. It’s not quite Kool-Aid; it’s also not homogenized milk.

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