Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Trainwreck is an emphatic statement to the world that Amy Schumer’s comedic voice needs to be heard. She’s advancing her form as she dives into romantic comedy fare, hellbent on subverting every standard. The film easily establishes both her and Bill Hader as some of the brightest actors in Hollywood. Both have been raised through the acting world on television comedies, with obvious reliances on stand-up fare: Schumer coming from her own Comedy Central starrer Inside Amy Schumer, and Hader from many years on NBC’s long-standing Saturday Night Live. Together, they create one of the most oddball comedic romances in recent memory. The film, simply, is a romantic comedy with every single role reversed: Schumer playing the playboy that sleeps with anything that moves, Hader playing the sensitive, grounded, career-oriented lover, and LeBron James playing the concerned, emotionally-aware friend that wants what’s best for their best friend. If that sounds weird, it plays out as anything but. Director Judd Apatow captures the world with his usual sensitive, observant touch, while Schumer’s script sparks to life even as it drifts in its second half. The film’s a hilarious blast that, despite conventional trappings, feels oddly refreshing and boldly insightful.
The story follows Amy (Amy Schumer), a commitment-phobe that has been trained since she was a child to believe that monogamy was not successful. Her father, Gordon (Colin Quinn), cheated on their mother, and playfully describes in the prologue of the film that his daughters would not want to play with the same doll for the rest of their life, so why should he have to metaphorically do the same? Now, Amy’s life is unsurprisingly a bit of a mess. She’s dating Steven (John Cena), a sensitive man that ultimately wants to marry Amy but doesn’t realize she’s been cheating on him consistently since they “didn’t say they were exclusive.” She writes at a magazine company that mostly produces complete and utter sleaze; her fellow workers include yes-woman and quasi-best friend Nikki (Vanessa Bayer) and Dianna (Tilda Swinton), her awful boss that prides herself on writing for an audience of every single human being. Amy gets assigned a project on a sports doctor that heals athletes’ busted knees, something in which she has no interest since she hates sports. The doctor’s name is Aaron (Bill Hader), and he takes care of plenty of major names, including LeBron James (playing himself), who remains a close friend. Amy’s story grows more personal as she falls for Aaron, even if he doesn’t fit her traditional mold of a man.
Trainwreck is anything but traditional. It’s a subversive swirl of a film that makes every man sensitive and most of the women hard-nosed men-snatchers. There’s something delightful in seeing relatively normal people presented on screen; instead of the woman always trying to show the man how to love, Aaron must settle Amy down before she effectively ruins her life by avoiding the one man she genuinely loves. Amy’s not just emotionally a piece of work, but also a drunk and aggressive presence that hates feelings and making a family of her own. Her interactions with her sister, Kim (Brie Larson), exemplify that as Amy cannot stand her sweetheart of a stepson Allister (Evan Brinkman) and her doof of a husband Tom (fantastic stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia, whose film Sleepwalk with Me is an absolute delight). Yet we never really connect with Amy emotionally as her journey shows a stubbornness and thorough misunderstanding of the world around her. She plays the traditionally stuck-in-their-ways protagonist that pervades romantic comedies, and settles into that role with ease. An early scene has her tricking her partner for the night into some foreplay that ultimately stands as a selfish move before she fakes falling asleep. She’s manipulative, often drunk, and somehow a joy to watch.
Bill Hader’s presence cannot be understated. He’s one of Hollywood’s strongest talents, an everyday man that can play remarkably human characters. While I am not a huge fan of The Skeleton Twins, his performance there is deeply moving and resonates far beyond the story’s wanderings. Here, he plays an established man with undoubted insecurities, and that makes him compelling. He’s very funny and has a great back-and-forth chemistry with LeBron, who embodies his role terrifically. The basketball icon plays against type in every way: he’s fiscally conservative, interested in Downton Abbey, self-conscious, emotionally nervous about his best friend, and so defiantly against everything the public sees about him. Apatow has a knack for filming big names and making them feel small and grounded; he does that here, often using a talking heads, centralized framing for most of the conversations that make these characters feel decidedly normal. Their problems feel real and universal. Schumer’s writing is the driving force behind the film’s impact. Supporting roles by Ezra Miller, Daniel Radcliffe, and Marisa Tomei round out a stellar cast with so many moving parts that it makes the film a complex, if uneven, feature.
And as I talk about these characters and their sensitivity, I’ve failed to mention one key thing: the film’s absolutely hilarious. The interplay between Schumer and Hader allow for situational moments that either draw laughs from Schumer’s narration, or the scenes’ goofy set-ups. One of my favorite scenes in the film is a montage of their dating moments that ends in a shot that is identical in framing and (basically) lighting with Woody Allen’s Manhattan. One of the great romances in cinema, the scene signifies a turning point in the relationship between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters; here, it’s used to showcase an act of public sex. Schumer just doesn’t care about what is traditional or what is untouchable, as long as a joke can be made. The film’s structure is strong in the first half, balancing jokes with exposition and allowing these characters to truly become their own. Yet it wanders far too much in its second half, becoming a disjointed comedy balancing too many storylines. The humor, however, remains aggressive and original throughout. Despite its faults, this is Apatow’s most commercially accessible fare since Knocked Up, and Schumer’s most poignant work across all of her platforms. Trainwreck is a surprisingly adept comedy, and stands as one of the strongest comedies of 2015.
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)