Film Review | Trainwreck

There's something a bit off about Amy Schumer's unapologetic relationship dramedy, though the laughs do keep coming

The new normal: Amy Schumer and Bill Hader headline this aggressively atypical rom-com… but does it really challenge the status quo?
The new normal: Amy Schumer and Bill Hader headline this aggressively atypical rom-com… but does it really challenge the status quo?

The problem with tackling issues of equality and social justice in popular culture is the same as any problem pertaining to popular culture as a whole: it tends to swallow things whole, to repeat its most superficial tenets ad nauseum and ultimately do more harm than good.

It’s debatable whether the rise of what we could call ‘vulgar feminist’ comedy has jumped that particular shark yet, but with Bridesmaids (2011) – a flagship title of the sub-genre to many – already relying on poop jokes to keep its more memorable set piece afloat, I’d say we run the risk of approaching the danger zone pretty soon.

Thankfully, however, Judd Apatow-directed, Amy Schumer-penned promiscuity-comedy Trainwreck doesn’t stake all of its claims on to broad gross-out and/or overtly sexual gags. At least, not all the time. But its problems have less to do with the sum of its parts, and more with the general direction of its supposedly ground-breaking character development narrative.

In the lead-up to a messy divorce, Amy’s (Schumer) father convinces her that monogamy is not a realistic way of going about one’s romantic career. This philosophy – imprinted in her mind thanks to a memorable doll metaphor courtesy of her philandering father – sticks with Amy for most of her young life, though it doesn’t seem to affect her comparatively conservative sister, Kim (Brie Larson), in the same way.


But while on assignment for the cynical lifestyle magazine she writes for, Amy stumbles across a guy who seems to scratch a deeper itch than most – and she’s had her fair share of scratching. Sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) appears to legitimately click with Amy, despite his somewhat nerdy demeanour – which clashes dramatically with Amy’s perennially wild streak. Can Amy turn her life around and experience a real relationship for once in her life? More to the point – does she even want to?

First off – never let it be said that Apatow and Schumer don’t make a great team. Apatow’s celebrated touch with sexually charged middle class American comedy (he’s the mastermind behind the likes of The 40 Year Old Virgin Knocked Up and This Is 40) is nicely paired with Schumer’s urbane and frank take on the modern female experience. Plenty of stock is placed on the fact that Amy is an ‘average’ looking girl, and her promiscuity is never presented as a source of shame in and of itself – in the sense that the physical act is never demonized – but rather, that it’s a symptom of something larger and more worrying.

In fact, the scenes most likely to elicit belly laughs are the ones that happen in the bedroom. Whether it’s Amy’s dalliance with the muscle-bound Stephen (wrestler John Cena hilariously playing against audience expectations) or a disastrous encounter with a new colleague, Schumer and Apatow know that the audience will be primed to expect comedy gold during these scenes, and thankfully don’t drop the ball.

The strength of its supporting cast is not to be sniffed at, either. One shining beacon of greatness is, as ever, Tilda Swinton. Clearly relishing her role as Amy’s amoral and vicious magazine editor boss – think a spray-tanned and heavily caffeinated take on Meryl Streep’s Not-Anna Wintour in Devil Wears Prada – the veteran British actress milks the character’s bitchiness for all it’s worth.

And while Hader and Schumer’s chemistry is also pitch perfect, there is something uneasy about the development of the plot. We do know Amy is going to see the ‘error in her ways’ – what we hang around for is just how this is going to happen. It’s a bit of a disappointment, then, that the route Schumer opts for her eponymous protagonist is one that settles for convention above all. A deus ex machina event pushes things forward, ultimately leading to a conversion that’s all about embracing conventional relationships and thinking about starting a family. Like the films of Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) Apatow and Schumer affect a mildly transgressive, stereotype-challenging edifice, only to collapse back into the mainstream flow for fear of upsetting the cart too much.

Still, if it’s an endearing relationship comedy you’re after, Trainwreck satisfies on that count easily enough. It’s just unfortunate that so much stock is clearly placed on its ‘game changer’ hype – hype that it never quite lives up to.

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