PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

‘Trainwreck’ Isn’t Enough of One

Amy Schumer’s rom-com isn’t the raunch fest that Trainwreck's pre-release hype has promised. It’s more like a typical Judd Apatow movie about childish adults growing up.


Trainwreck

Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Mike Birbiglia, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James, Vanessa Bayer, Ezra Miller, Dave Attell
Rated: R
Year: 2015
US date: 2015-07-17 (General release)
UK date: 2015-08-28 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Trainwreck takes a step that seems daring, but shouldn't be, relocating the female character usually relegated to the periphery in a romantic comedy -- say, the drunk disaster at the heroine’s wedding -- and putting her front and center.

Written by Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, the film focuses on Amy (played by Schumer), another variation on the stock character from her TV show. Narcissistic and cutting, she's racked up several lifetimes’ worth of one-night stands, terrified of commitment, and inclined to over-share. While the character tends toward dirty humor, she's not so much intentionally shocking, a la Sarah Silverman, but rather, so self-involved that she’s unconcerned with how anyone else might take her revelations, as when she compares sleeping with her pseudo-boyfriend Steven (John Cena) to “having sex with an ice sculpture.”

No matter how potty-mouthed or frequently blackout drunk this Amy may be, however, she's living in a New York-set rom-com, which means that she's working at a glamorous men's magazine. This allows for some basic gags (the first scene has her horrified at waking up in a random guy's place on Staten Island) as well as some situational comedy. Called S’Nuff, the publication looks like a toxic mixture of Buzzfeed and Maxim (and it's probably only about five minutes away from becoming reality).

Although it’s never quite clear what Amy writes for S'Nuff, her editor Dianna (Tilda Swinton) assigns her to write a profile piece on slightly nerdy sports doctor Aaron (Bill Hader, the straight-arrow for once), who will be her romantic challenge for the film. As in most such movies, the blonde star has a best friend with whom she commiserates (Vanessa Bayer, one of a squad of SNL cast members in small roles). Their girl-talk isn't so much focused on trying to find the right guy, but on Amy’s terror that one of the men she meets (a number of them listed in credits as “One-Night Stand Guy”) might actually want her to spend the night or (ick) call her to meet again.

Amy’s fear of commitment is traced right back to her father Gordon (Colin Quinn), seen in the opening scene lecturing a young Amy and her sister Kim about the dangers of settling down. As an adult, Amy follows the hard-drinking, acerbic Gordon’s advice to the letter, even as she might hope that all her selfish and destructive behavior will be overlooked because she was such a fun party-girl. By contrast, Kim (Brie Larson) has married a regular and unassuming guy (Mike Birbiglia), with whom she is raising his son and is pregnant with her first. As they embody a funny and touching triangulation of differing worldviews, anger-edged love, and comedy, Amy and Kim are engaging as sisters, their conversations and their tensions convincing, as Amy mistakes Kim’s concern for scorn and her refusal to get sucked into Gordon’s misanthropy for some kind of jealousy.

But Trainwreck doesn't focus on this dynamic. Instead it veers off course not long after Amy and Aaron start turning into a real couple. To the film’s credit, it riffs on but doesn’t overdo the opposites-attract dialectic, even though Amy is so clueless about sports that when an underhandedly charming LeBron James (playing himself) stops by to see his buddy Aaron, her only comment is, “He’s tall.”

At first, the relationship works surprisingly well. Hader is more downbeat than usual, but he and Schumer have a warm chemistry that helps to make up for the fact that Aaron is never given enough of a backstory to make him anything more than The Nice Guy She Should Be With. The film puts more effort into Aaron’s scenes with James, which appear more genuine than the usual scenes between the romantic lead and his best friend (think about the stiff interactions between Tom Hanks and Dave Chappelle in You’ve Got Mail). Their exchanges get some mileage out of James playing a hyper-sincere nerd who worries about watching Downton Abbey before the rest of his team, insists on splitting the bill, and demands to know Amy’s “intentions" with Aaron.

James’ scenes are some of the film’s best, but they also signal a problem that nearly kills all the good will they engender. After a tragedy throws a bomb into Amy’s already stressful family situation, Trainwreck turns from self-aware rom-com -- the kind that wants to have a lovers-in-bloom montage, but still comment ironically on it -- to a more standard Apatow narrative about a young adult learning to put away childish things. When Amy starts cleaning up her life, a couple of scenes seems like gender-reversed cribs from Seth Rogen’s character arc in Knocked Up.

Even apart from Apatow borrowing from his own work, his new film shows other signs of its lack of imagination, for instance, piling on more celebrity cameos than could possibly be needed. There’s a labored Amar’e Stoudemire subplot that drags the action to a halt, and a strange scene involving James, Matthew Broderick, Marv Albert, and Chris Evert that feels like an outtake from a Will Ferrell and Adam MacKay sports satire, only without the surreal humor. We might hope that Apatow and other filmmakers heed this lesson: inserting famous people into comedies, repeating their names ad nauseam, and having them act against type is not intrinsically funny.

All that said, Trainwreck is as much an Amy Schumer film as a Judd Apatow film. And as an Amy Schumer film, it doesn't offer the revolutionary upheaval of female stereotypes that some of the pre-release press suggests. Instead, it's a funnier than average summer comedy that allows its female star to be a train wreck and not feel the need to punish her for it.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Nevill's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.