Trainwreck is Amy Schumer’s shot at the big time. The comedienne, whose show Inside Amy Schumer airs on Comedy Central, has proven herself whip-smart and subversive, unafraid to use humor to expose honesties about women and society that others often “shush” under the rug. As the writer and star of Trainwreck, the pressure is squarely on her to deliver. So does she?
Sort of. It’s a decent movie, not great. Perhaps even “good” if you’re really in the mood for a vulgar female-driven romantic comedy. On her TV show, Schumer is unrestrained and topical due to the flexibility of the sketch format, but here she’s forced to isolate her focus on a single storyline and, as a result, the humor occasionally feels desperate. For example, Schumer’s character has a misogynist/racist/homophobic/cantankerous father, Gordon, played by Colin Quinn, and all his jokes are offensive. The movie didn’t need to go that route to get laughs, especially when there are plenty of comedic opportunities within the premise of a promiscuous woman who’s not looking for Mr. Right but finds him anyway.
Far too many comedies have been centered on an irresponsible guy who likes drinking and hooking up and sees no reason to change his ways, only to meet “the one” and quickly change his ways. Trainwreck switches the genders and puts Schumer in the lead as Amy, an uninhibited magazine writer who eagerly cheats on her boyfriend (John Cena) because she doesn’t think monogamy is feasible. She drinks and smokes weed, but is good enough at her job that boss Dianna (Tilda Swinton) asks her to profile a sports doctor even though Amy hates sports. Her co-workers (Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, Randall Park, and an intern played by Ezra Miller) don’t understand why she’s given the assignment, but off she goes to meet Dr. Aaron Connors (Bill Hader), who works with professional athletes. Amy and Aaron don’t hit it off at first, but gradually fall in love. Complications ensue.
In comedy, shock value can work for a quick laugh, but if the reason we’re shocked remains onscreen, he/she/it needs to continue to be funny for the scene to work. To wit, basketball star LeBron James has an extended cameo as Aaron’s patient, and his scenes misfire because he’s asked to do too much, like give advice to Aaron and ask Amy what her intentions are. In other words, they asked King James to act! And he’s not an actor, so criticizing him for not playing the scenes well is unfair. The real blame goes to Schumer (as the writer) and Judd Apatow for putting him in this position and not ensuring that he succeeds. It is their responsibility to make sure James comes across effectively, and he does not.
Apatow’s directorial efforts have been an absolute trainwreck since Knocked Up (2007), with Funny People (2009) and This is 40 (2012), dull comedies that didn’t live up to their potential. Apatow was theoretically smart, then, to yield writing duties to Schumer (this is the first time he’s directed something he didn’t write), because this lets him get out of his own way and focus on directing. Yet again he falls short because the story, though it has some unexpected twists, plays out in the safe, traditional ways we expect. And though it’s funny at times, the humor overall tends to go more for the surprise laugh rather than the organic laugh, and as a result often feels forced.
You’ll certainly enjoy parts of Trainwreck, but not enough of it to feel satisfied. Leaving the theater with the clear sense that you should’ve laughed more is a definite sign that this underwhelms.