NOTE: The version of Trainwreck shown at SXSW was not the final cut of the film.
I’m not all that familiar with Amy Schumer. I’ve never seen her television show. I’ve never seen her standup. My only exposure to her prior to seeing Trainwreck was a couple episodes of “Girls” she was on, but from this movie, I can sort of see what the appeal is. She talks about modern day issues for women, has a sly vulgarity about her, and she can deliver a punchline. If anything, Trainwreck made me interested in seeking out more of her material. Perhaps she’s better served outside of a Judd Apatow lens.
Even though Schumer wrote and stars in the film, this has the fingerprints of an Apatow production all over it, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. He is at the forefront of the alt-driven comedy I loath (see my review of Paul Feig’s Spy), which means where Schumer’s material ends, and Apatow’s material begins, is all the more apparent and detrimental to the movie. Scenes go on forever and there are extraneous scenes that serve no purpose. I know this is not a final cut, but given Apatow’s track record for long, indulgent films, I don’t see this one changing all that much.
Thankfully Trainwreck‘s leads, Schumer and the always good Bill Hader, have an excellent chemistry together and sell the romance. Because, at its core, this is a romantic comedy, complete with a run to Madison Square Garden for one last big gesture to show they should still be together. It hits the beats a rom-com should and is not ashamed by it at all. I was waiting for Schumer’s voiceover in the film to start commenting on rom-com clichÃ©s, and it never happened. It was kind of refreshing. But because you like the people involved, the clichÃ©s don’t really matter.
Schumer plays a character named Amy (she didn’t stray too far coming up with that one), a writer for a magazine that usually specializes in the dumbest stories imaginable, as they are debating whether or not to make “How to Not Get Caught Masturbating at Work” a cover story.
On the verge of a promotion from her editor (Tilda Swinton), despite Amy’s complete disinterest in sports, she’s assigned a story about a sports doctor (Hader) who is revolutionizing sports medicine and surgery. This may sound cliche and like a fairly flimsy premise, which it is, but sell it rather well.
The “twist” in the narrative is that Amy was explicitly taught by her father (Colin Quinn) that monogamy is horrible, so relationships are not really her thing. She’s sexually free and refuses to spend the night after sex. So, when she starts to have feelings for Hader’s character, she can’t even understand how to process them, and Schumer plays that inability to comprehend what her character is going through incredibly well.
Meanwhile, Amy is dealing with her sister (a criminally underused Brie Larson) who didn’t follow her father’s rules on monogamy and has a second kid on the way. Her decision to move their sick dad to a cheaper nursing home adds another layer to the character drama and it feels very authentic through Schumer’s unique voice.
The biggest issue here, is Trainwreck is not very funny. Yes, I laughed a couple of times, but a lot of the time when I was supposed to be laughing, I was just waiting for the next scene. Surprisingly, the bulk of the laughs I got were from LeBron James, playing himself, as one of Hader’s clients and friends. And the laughs didn’t come from a “Ooh, LeBron James is saying things we wouldn’t think he would say” place. They go there a couple of times, but actually, he just plays a normal human being concerned about his friend’s happiness.
The problem is, in a two hour runtime, I laughed for a maximum of ten minutes. Not a good ratio, and that’s a shame because the rest of the pieces work very well. Schumer establishes herself here in a big way as both a unique performer and writer. She makes the romance and family drama work. The pieces are there for a fully satisfying movie, it just doesn’t all come together. I can think of about 20-25 minutes you could easily excise from the movie, but given Apatow’s proclivities for excess, I doubt that will happen.