When the producers chose Trainwreck as the title for the big-screen debut of white hot comedienne Amy Schumer, they were—perhaps winkingly—setting the film up for many a critical pan by practically prewriting the headline: “Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck Lives Up To Its Title.”
Such a strategy wouldn’t be surprising, since self-deprecation has become known as a hallmark of Schumer’s shtick. “People are so angry and love to, like, burn someone at the stake,” she responded when asked how self-deprecation factors into her work during a recent Hollywood Reporter Women in Comedy roundtable. “So I’ll just burn myself.”
There is, of course, a flip side to the title, the wink so reminiscent of rom-com triumph that should make the modern viewer—not to mention any Schumer devotee—skeptical of the film’s intentions: “Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck is Anything But.”
Is Trainwreck trying to woo the audience with a fresh and “filthy” take on rom com tropes? Or seduce them into believing in the possible revivification of such worn-out norms before slam-banging them in a scintillating satirical send-up?
Sadly, the answer is neither. Anyone who thought Schumer the anointed blonde savior, or potential ultimate skewer-er, of what has become a butt-of-the-joke genre—especially since Schumer has proven so good at lampooning other aspects of our overly gendered culture, from women’s magazines to boy bands—is likely to be let down. Trainwreck lands squarely between the two extremes of criticism to which its title so handily lends itself. That is, to say, it proceeds—sometimes shakily, sometimes steadily—on the track to midsummer movie mediocrity.
Hype for the film has been high for studio heads and moviegoers alike, especially since, in America, the majority of the latter are now women. Any question of the omnipotence of the female consumer, as well as the myth that there is not enough demand for films starring women, has been debunked. A responsibility to please the female demographic with whom Schumer has carved out a name for herself landed on the comedian’s “refreshingly” rounded shoulders from the start; since Schumer’s is one of only five female-centric films slated for wide release this summer—the others arguably being Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, Charlize Theron’s Mad Max, Cara Delevingne’s Paper Towns, and Meryl Streep and Diablo Cody’s Ricki and the Flash—Trainwreck deserved to bear a responsibility commensurate to its proportion of this obscenely small number.
Rather than crumble under all this pressure, Trainwreck—in a fashion that should be so typical of the stereotype of its pot-smoking, hard-drinking, sufficiently sexed antiheroine—shirks the responsibility to please. But as much as its trailer would have liked you to think that this was a story about “emerging adulthood” (à la Charlize Theron’s Young Adult), or sexploits on steroids (Anna Faris’ What’s Your Number), it’s neither quite as twisted, nor as titillated. Instead, it tells the story of Amy, a writer at a men’s magazine who’s really a wryer version of Schumer’s base persona on Inside Amy Schumer, the TV series for which she was just nominated for an Emmy. Bill Hader plays it surprisingly straight as an—even more surprisingly—charming romantic lead: sports doctor Aaron Conners. John Cena is deceptively and ticklishly good, playing somewhat against type as Amy’s meathead—but monogamous—ex. Colin Quinn steps in as Amy’s foulmouth father, whose deadbeat status is mitigated mainly by the fact that he has MS, but also by Amy’s unwavering devotion.
There are at least a dozen celebrity cameos, some head-scratching (Matthew Broderick, as himself) and others filched directly from the cast of Saturday Night Live (Pete Davidson, Leslie Jones; Vanessa Bayer gets some well-deserved vanity screen time in her role as what appears to be Amy’s only female friend). Daniel Radcliffe even shows up alongside Marisa Tomei in The Dogwalker, a movie-within-the-movie intended to mock artsy-fartsy films that Trainwreck, with a seriousness many viewers would not have anticipated, might not have any place criticizing. All in all, it’s a cast you would pay to watch paint dry. The real scene stealer, though, is LeBron James, making his screen debut as himself, dispensing bro-saic tidbits of wisdom as Aaron’s friend, patient and confidante.
But, like any real trainwreck, the film has a lot of moving parts; could they possibly function properly in tandem? Most scenes play out in a manner reminiscent of the sketches on Schumer’s show; drawn out, so as to delve into the absurd. Or, as the spot-on headline of David Edelstein’s review put it: “Trainwreck Is a Winner, Until it Turns Into a Judd Apatow Movie.” More than a few of Apatow’s films are known for dwindling in dysfunction—and, as Edelstein wisely points out, eventually endorsing domesticity.
Initially, Trainwreck suggested a new world order in Hollywood—or, at least, in the notoriously unrealistic sphere of Hollywood that comprises the alternate universe in which rom-coms come to life: a female lead who’s “a modern chick, who does what she wants” while looking more like your cousin than a catalog model, convincingly, and somewhat touchingly, romanced by the man behind the epitome of pop culture kitsch that was Stefon. But that leading lady is eventually chastised for her so-called “modernity” in the form of being told that yeah, her Doctor boyfriend does hate her boozy ways, even if he doesn’t admit it at first. Her suburban sister is sick of Amy making fun of the husband and stepson she coddles. She is in the wrong for sleeping with another guy in a “non-exclusive” relationship.
“I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story—I will,” declared Schumer in what has now become an oft-quoted portion of her Gloria Award acceptance speech. “I will speak and share and fuck and love and I will never apologize to the frightened millions who resent that they never had it in them to do it.”
Why would Schumer write and star in a film that dismisses its sexually liberated lady as nothing more than the damaged goods of her parents’ divorce? Entertainment Weekly’s cover story made the answer—and Schumer’s self-serving intentions—painfully clear: “ ‘She just talked about what she ultimately wanted to do, which was to be an actress,’ says [Inside Amy Schumer’s headwriter Jessi] Klein. ‘I told her: Do not squander this. Go bananas!’”
The tragedy of Trainwreck isn’t that the woman who brought us so many sketches about the piss-poor portrayal of women in the entertainment industry—from “Last F**kable Day” to the episode-long 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer—has now herself become a willing victim. Rather, it’s that—with Apatow sneakily at the helm (he hides behind the moniker of “From the Guy Who Brought You Bridesmaids” until after the credits roll)—what could have been a chance to eviscerate these standards absolutely smacks of “traditional family values”: that all too subtle, but no less patronizing, stamp of the patriarchy.