On the Rails, by David Bax
Judd Apatow’s formula (provided his trademark style isn’t too loose to be described as such) has resulted in movies that end up looking like unfinished sculptures. He usually has a few good characters and ideas to work with but he always seem to have shot too much footage and then given up in the editing room before finishing. The main problem with Trainwreck is that, thanks to hours of televised standup and three brilliant seasons of television, we already know what star/writer Amy Schumer is capable of, which means we know just how far from capturing it he got. Anyone buying a ticket for Trainwreck in the hopes of seeing an Amy Schumer movie will likely be disappointed. This is, in almost every way, an Apatow joint.
Schumer plays Amy, a single woman who writes for a men’s magazine and spends her free time in various states of drunken (but always safe) promiscuity. Her editor, Dianna (Tilda Swinton, hilarious with an burnt, orange tan and a sharpened tongue), decides it will be fun to assign her a story for which she is enormously ill-equipped, a profile of a successful, cutting edge sports doctor name Aaron (Bill Hader). They fall in love, obviously. There’s more to the story than that but, sadly, not a whole hell of a lot more and what is there is creakily familiar. There are plenty of laughs, both from the comedians (Schumer, Hader, Colin Quinn telling old men that Babe Ruth sucked because he only had to play other white guys, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Jon Glaser, Mike Birbiglia) and from a surprising number of the athletes. LeBron James is rightly getting a lot of press as the unlikely male equivalent of the milquetoast, sexless best friend character whom women usually play in romantic comedies but Amar’e Stoudemire gets a few good moments and John Cena is a minor revelation as the sensitive musclehead boyfriend who drags Amy to dopey Sundance-type indie movies (the one we get a glimpse of, about an emotionally tortured dogwalker, is one of the film’s best gags).
Unfortunately, we’re not just watching for jokes. Apatow and Schumer are telling us a story about characters and so we have to factor the success or failure of those things into our enjoyment. Almost immediately, it rankles that Amy is such a patently terrible journalist. She openly mocks or is demonstrably bored by the man she’s interviewing, not to mention the fact that she starts sleeping with him, which must violate some code of ethics somewhere. More troubling, though, is the film’s (and the title’s) insistence that Amy is a mess. In reality, she’s a happy, adult woman with a good job, a healthy attitude toward her body and no immediate designs on marriage or children. If we didn’t have her bore of a sister (played by Brie Larson) constantly telling her she doesn’t have her shit together, Amy would be a role model.
There are plenty of other nits to pick, such as the completely nonsensical passage of time. It’s unclear how long it takes Amy to interview Aaron and write the article. And when she meets him, he’s getting ready to perform a groundbreaking surgery that doesn’t actually take place until late in the movie, after months have passed. It would be a waste of time to list Trainwreck’s many inconsistencies here so it will suffice simply to point out that, were the movie better, they wouldn’t all be so glaring.
The clue to the fact that there’s a good movie somewhere under all the endless improvisation and overlong scenes is in the performances. Schumer and Hader have brilliant chemistry. There are sections where you may find yourself laughing, not because they’re trying to make you but because they’re cracking each other up so much, you’ll feel like you’re right there on the date with them. On her own, and in the film’s sadder moments, Schumer proves a versatile actor, welling up during a eulogy or discovering the therapeutic power of Minecraft with her young nephew.
Still, the very nature of the movie’s sad parts is exhausting. Any romantic comedy needs the section where they get in a fight and break up for a bit, apparently, so Schumer contrives an argument based on the idea that she has to take a very important, work-related phone call at an inopportune moment. Sure, that would be a drag, but they’ve been together for months at this point. Wouldn’t the baseline of trust and respect allow them to weather that? When they fight about it, some of the words that get flung around are harsher than one would expect from a standard rom-com. Yet they are no longer harsher than what we expect from a Judd Apatow rom-com. In The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, Apatow’s ability to string thorns of realism through his stories and to show people at their self-centered worst was something truly exciting. In Trainwreck, as in the also disappointing This Is 40, that’s just another part of the formula.