Just when it seemed that Judd Apatow was going soft as a director (This is 40), he gets a jolt of acerbity from comedian Amy Schumer. Writer and star of Apatow’s Trainwreck, Schumer enlivens the Apatow formula without sacrificing her particular brand of confessional comedy.
There is no doubt that Apatow, in turn, has softened Schumer a bit – not necessarily in terms of content (Trainwreck is plenty raunchy) as much as in structure. Sketches of the sort that comprise her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, don’t require the narrative arc and tidy resolution that Apatow’s romantic comedies somewhat frustratingly prefer. Yet within the conventional framework of Trainwreck, Schumer delivers an authentic, hilarious portrait of a mess of a woman who begins to suspect that a certain freedom might be found in setting boundaries.
Schumer plays Amy, a promiscuous, hard-drinking staff writer for a loathsome style magazine called S’Nuff. (Sample cover story: Ugliest Celebrity Kids Under 6.) Despite a lifestyle that occasionally requires an early-morning, Staten-Island-Ferry-ride-of-shame back to Manhattan – which Schumer punctuates with an ironic Titanic pose on the ship’s upper deck – she insists, “I am fine. I am in control.” When she’s challenged about her drinking and sleeping around by her sort-of boyfriend, Steven (WWE fighter John Cena, hysterical in a small role), she immediately dumps him to maintain an upper hand. “I just need this interaction to be over,” she tells him in a robotic tone.
The movie’s catalyst for change arrives in the form of Aaron (Bill Hader), a sports doctor Amy is assigned to profile for the magazine. They don’t exactly hit it off at first – her claim to be a fan of the “Thunder Wizards” is an early tip-off that she cares nothing for sports – yet they soon develop a natural, teasing repartee. And when they inadvertently share an authentic, emotional moment involving Amy’s ailing father (Colin Quinn, somehow touching while being wildly inappropriate), a real relationship begins to form.
Amy’s worst moments simultaneously work as opportunities for internal confession.
That Thunder Wizards line is a good example of the role that denial plays in Schumer’s comedy. Sometimes it’s innocuous, as in a very funny aside in which Amy claims she’s had nothing to eat that day – and then rattles off a seemingly endless list of the unhealthy items she’s consumed before lunch. Yet often her exasperated denials involve more significant things, such as her drinking or her sexual habits. Amy’s worst moments – when she’s caught lying about the men whose names are on her phone, for instance – simultaneously work as opportunities for internal confession. Watch carefully as her comically brazen lies wind down into mumbled concessions. There’s usually a quiet epiphany at the end.
Schumer is outstanding in such scenes, which makes sense; they most closely echo the ethos of her sketch show. Yet there are also purely dramatic moments in Trainwreck where she more than holds her own. Conversely, the movie affords a handful of non-comedians (non-actors, really) the chance to apply their presence on the big screen, and for the most part they acquit themselves nicely. LeBron James has some great lines, perfectly delivered, as a busybody, cheapskate version of himself, while the aforementioned Cena gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs, particularly during a sex scene in which Steven makes an abysmal attempt at dirty talk.
In its understanding of sexuality, Trainwreck is very much in line with Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. In all three films, sex isn’t something to be taken lightly. Well, it is taken lightly – Apatow’s sex scenes are among his funniest – so maybe it’s more appropriate to say that it isn’t taken casually. If anything, the sex scenes in Trainwreck are humorous because they expose the inherent awkwardness of two people connecting bodily while leaving their hearts and minds behind. Wise in its own way without sacrificing at all on laughs, the film’s conservatism is well-earned.