Crash Test: Trainwreck

07/15/2015 10:01 AM |

Directed by Judd Apatow
Opens July 17

Much of today’s big- and small-screen comedy exists in a landscape staffed, designed, or at the very least branded by Judd Apatow, but the canny director-producer perhaps makes his biggest impact now through the talent he has encouraged, most notably Lena Dunham in Girls and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, but dating back to casting unconventional leads (Steve Carell in 40-Year-Old Virgin, Seth Rogen in Knocked Up) or the prescient lineup of underdog TV touchstone Freaks & Geeks. That may also amount to a strategy that preserves his viability when his movies fail to connect (This Is 40, Funny People), but Trainwreck, written by its star, powers into theaters with a formidable head of steam thanks to Schumer’s success and enduring viability as a subject for magazine features—which makes her self-casting as a staff writer for a misogynistic lad mag another installment in the comic’s running satire on the culture and the industry.

It’s an incisive setting for Amy, the self-sabotaging New Yorker Schumer plays in Trainwreck, whose romantic misadventures recall past personas from the TV and stand-up work. Introduced through a flashback starring Colin Quinn as a two-timing dad lecturing his daughters, and a one-night-stand montage, Amy also editorializes through a defensive voiceover, which seems to lose prominence with the ascendance of nice-guy Aaron in her life. Played by Bill Hader, he’s the orthopedic surgeon to the (sports) stars she’s writing a feature about and then sleeping with, and Apatow and Schumer’s rom-com in some ways recapitulates the standard story of someone accepting herself to accept someone else, but with the let-it-all-hang-out prerogative afforded to, say, Seth Rogen’s loser in Knocked Up. Though spiked with Amy’s barbed asides, the film also pulls off the shelf more than a few tired bits, including the tough guy who keeps making comments meant to suggest he’s gay, or, worse, the sassy homeless guy. Some are so lazy as to not even make much sense, like the parodically awful independent movie
Amy goes to see.

Like past films d’Apatow, Trainwreck lets us in on the jokes, not in a meta sense, but as if the people on screen are people we know and love. The husband and son of Amy’s sister, Kim (Brie Larson)—whom she commiserates with over their elderly-homed father—are the butts of jokes that congeal into I-kid-because-I-love sarcasm. And Apatow and Schumer aren’t above putting a sunshine speech in the mouth of Amy’s son (who, like his nice dad, is also treated as prissy). Attributing credit in a studio comedy is always a bit dicey, but as much as Trainwreck is a bigger-stage debut for Schumer’s risk-taking routines (which pose an alternative to Melissa McCarthy’s), Apatow’s influence as inveterate note-giver and joke-tester might be discernible in the film’s dutiful reconciliation structure (complete with unnecessary misunderstanding, and goofy musical performance), or its star cameos (and in the case of LeBron James, small role as Aaron’s best bud), or even in a sloppily looped-in second joke about Pink Floyd in a scene between Schumer and (a terrific) Tilda Swinton as her brash Brit boss.

One of Schumer’s finer moments, in a performance that varies significantly in its expressiveness (especially alongside Hader’s remarkable one), comes with what’s in a way a stand-up routine: a eulogy, with direct appeals to the audience, which is won over to her tough but clear-eyed view of love as, good and bad features aside, ratified by popularity. Trainwreck, whether or not one thinks it blunts Schumer’s double-edged comedy with some of the very hidebound conventions she might critique, is probably less interesting than whatever she does next with its success.