Amy Schumer is very funny. Her comedy skit program is bold, edgy, subversive and full of insight and hilarity that, more often than not, challenges the hegemonic hypocrisies that exist in the media industry and the broader community. She has never been one to blindly accept the status quo or kowtow to any normative notions of gender, sex and relationships or adopt those attitudes and behaviours that are typically considered acceptable for women. And by ‘acceptable behaviour’ I mean those words or deeds that only serve to endorse existing inequities that perpetuate patriarchal values and belief systems. As such, Trainwreck has been one of the most eagerly anticipated comedic releases for quite some time. Written and co-produced by Schumer and directed by the prolific Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, This is 40), Trainwreck is an opportunity for Schumer to showcase her talent to a much broader audience. It is unfortunate then that, whilst the film has some very funny moments, it lacks the satirical bent that makes her television output so exciting. This might be a deliberate choice on her part, or it could be the influence of Apatow and/or nervous studio executives too scared to really push the envelope but, whatever the reason, the film ultimately becomes far too typical in its narrative trajectory and plotting to emerge as the transgressive take on the romantic comedy genre that we were perhaps expecting.
The first part of the film is very much in keeping with Schumer’s television work and is therefore, not surprisingly, the funniest. Schumer plays a writer for a magazine – who also happens to be named Amy in a nod to the autobiographical nature of the story – whose social life comprises excessive drinking and an endless run of one-night stands, an attitude that harks to the example set by her father Gordon (Colin Quinn), whose mantra of ‘monogamy is unrealistic’ was drummed into Amy and her sister Kim (Brie Larsen) at a young age. As such, Amy makes every effort to avoid even the merest hint of any emotional connection with the various men she beds. What seems a somewhat salacious premise is far less so in execution and anybody hoping for a sex-filled flesh fest will be somewhat disappointed. However, the Amy of the first half of the film is a lot of fun; a crass, straight-talking party girl whose lifestyle is at odds with the suburban idyll in which Kim is quite happily ensconced with husband Tom (Mike Birbiglia) and step-son Allister (Evan Brinkman).
When magazine editor Dianna (Tilda Swinton) despatches Amy to write a profile on acclaimed sports surgeon Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), the possibility of something developing beyond a casual fling seems a real possibility; the etiquettes and expectations of which are, of course, foreign to Amy and result in the inevitable conflicts that our couple must overcome to live happily ever after. It is the way this plays out that proves the biggest disappointment as the film simply follows a well worn path to the inevitable, privileging the ideological perspective that women can only find true happiness by falling in love with a man and ‘settling down’. I was really hoping to see Schumer push against such patronising portrayals but, alas, Trainwreck obediently falls into line with the established formula.
Whilst Schumer is obviously the centrepiece of the narrative, basketball superstar LeBron James emerges as a surprisingly stout comic performer as the yin to Aaron’s yang; the interplay between the two providing some of the best moments. Larson’s considerable talents are never stretched as Kim but it is always great to see her on screen, while Quinn is a standout as Gordon, a man steadfast in his beliefs who refuses to change his ways for anybody. Despite a few misfires along way, such as the movie-within-the-movie starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei, an intervention scene featuring Matthew Broderick and former tennis star Chris Evert and the attempt to pass 20-something Ezra Miller off as a 16-year-old intern, there are still plenty of laughs to be had. Although lacking the political and social critique of her other work, Trainwreck confirms Schumer’s bona fides as a comedy writer and performer. It would just be great to see her really cut loose on the big screen.