Judd Apatow returns to the well with Trainwreck, a 2015 romantic comedy with a foundation as traditional as it gets. The screenplay by Amy Schumer toys with the frayed edges of comedy, with plenty of raunchy sex stuff to pad out the bizarre 124-minute runtime. But at the core, it’s an astoundingly conservative piece of work that only flirts with overturning the natural order.
Those familiar with Schumer will be acquainted with the humour on display, but those familiar with Apatow should know that Trainwreck will wrench every ounce of juice out of the jokes until there’s nothing left. As such, this is kind of a weird collision of the comic and the conventional. Schumer’s script does flip the traditional Hollywood taming shtick around, but that only goes so far.
Schumer stars as Amy, a party girl who sleeps around. This seems to stem from advice her father (Colin Quinn) gave her after he walked out on her mother. As an adult, Amy’s wild ways are offset by her sister Kim (Brie Larson) and her more traditional lifestyle. Amy works for a trashy magazine and is seeing a beefcake (John Cena) when she’s sent to interview a sports doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader).
Aaron pals around with the likes of LeBron James and is attracted to Amy, who golly-gee likes him back. They sleep together and she’s weirded out when he wants her to stay the night. A relationship spawns and tragedy strikes, with Amy and Aaron navigating all the ins and outs of a new relationship.
The character of Amy is promising in theory, but her lifestyle is set up as the result of some troubling advice from her father. And this sets her up as the ideal target for redemption, like the “bad girl” in some foggy episode of Degrassi. Apatow telegraphs things so well that the audience always knows what’s coming and it never once feels earned. It just feels morally necessary.
Many romantic comedies invest in the taming of the bad boy and that’s the area where Trainwreck plays an interesting round. Amy is given sexual agency, a rarity in rom-coms, but it’s still tainted by her history. And the ludicrous warnings of the movie’s Stepford Wives make for good cannon fodder before it becomes apparent that Trainwreck really, really means it.
Characters talk relentlessly about the value of settling down and having a family, with Amy set to laugh off their lecturing – to a point. But there is nothing transgressive here and Schumer’s screenplay doesn’t skewer as many sacred cows as it seems. Her character doesn’t celebrate the hard lifestyle and the movie insists that she’s essentially a mess in need of straightening out. She’s damaged goods.
Other things are disappointingly trite, like the banter between male friends and the needless scenes inside Amy’s office. That’s to say nothing of Aaron’s profession, which is more a gift from the heavens than a believable job. He’s one of the best doctors on the planet, damn it. He even gets a pointed award to prove it, while Amy “writes” at a tacky publication. Some things never change.
There are some laughs in Trainwreck, with John Cena (!!) showing some pretty impressive comedy chops. But even he serves as the “you need to change your ways, Amy” outlet, as he tears a hectoring strip off her. And Larson, so good in everything she touches, is merely the tolerant example Schumer’s character aspires to.
A lot of of the laughs are undone by Apatow’s propensity to let things run far too long. There are many superfluous scenes and the movie could drop about a half-hour without losing anything significant. Scenes between James and Hader only seem to be included because Apatow had access, while a Daniel Radcliffe cameo is amusing but pointless. An early joke about Amy’s lack of black friends is also dumb.
Trainwreck really should be better than it is. Schumer is generally whip-smart when it comes to tackling gender expectations and her Inside Amy Schumer program is one of the cleverest comedies around today. But she feels strangely handcuffed, like orthodoxy won out when actual defiance could’ve changed the game.