Within recent years, Amy Schumer has seen a surge in popularity, popularity which has allowed her to extend the avenues in which she works. Judd Apatow’s latest film, Trainwreck, which is co-written by Schumer, is just one of these avenue. Here, Schumer has refined her own familiar material from her stand-up and sketch comedy show, in order to create something cinematic. That is not say that Schumer has watered down her material for the medium—she’s still completely Schumer on the big screen—but that her particular material here is one that could only work within the filmic world, and to this extent Schumer has aptly teamed with Apatow. While Apatow is no stranger to personal narratives (the director earned one of his first breaks with the too-soon cancelled television series Freaks and Geeks back in the late 90s), his own technique within Trainwreck is more subdued, allowing him to magnify the crassness of Schumer’s punchlines without being so overt. The result of the collaboration and evolution between Schumer and Appatow is a newer type of comedy film, one which isn’t necessarily as modern as much it was waiting to be discovered.
Trainwreck begins with a mantra that ideologically dominates the film up until its closing credits. A nine-years old Amy Townsend (Devin Fabry) sits on the hood of a car with her younger sister Kim (Carla Oudin). Their father, Gordon (Colin Quinn), explains to them that he’s divorcing their mother, due to, as Gordon puts lightly, his inability to remain monogamous. The stern talk ends in a chant between the three, which resonates: “monogamy isn’t realistic.” Twenty-three years later, Amy (Amy Schumer) now writes for a men’s magazine and lives her life by her father’s rule of thumb; she parties late, sleeps around, and overly indulges in alcohol and marijuana. It’s not a bad life for Amy but things change when she’s assigned to profile a rising sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). With no interest in sports, Amy fakes it but Conners is too quick-witted and calls her out immediately, showcasing Trainwreck’s ability for dispensing tropes that have ruled too long in the romantic-comedy genre. When Amy accidentally (although, given the nature of her character, perhaps purposefully) sleeps with Conners after a drunken night out, a sexual tug of war ensues between the two. Trainwreck does indeed tread familiar territory but what makes it so fresh is its execution and delivery, as well as a focus on a type of character, in this case, Amy, who’s rarely seen in a genre dominated not by human figures but fantastical ones which are meant to be adored and admired for their falsely attributed cinematic qualities. Characters within the romantic comedy genre aren’t so much relatable as they are heightened to levels of stardom where audiences can place themselves within respective roles. 500 Days of Summer (2009, Webb) and Ruby Sparks (2012, Kazan) are just some of the more films in recent memory to do away with such tropes. This isn’t to say that the characters in Trainwreck are not relatable due to their lack of certain cinematic qualities but that the characters in Trainwreck are relatable because they are human first and filmic characters second.
For anyone already familiar with Schumer’s material, the character of Amy will also feel familiar, and that’s because Schumer is working with the idea of a certain type of woman, the “real” woman, one who is sexual without being demonized, sexualized without being idolized, and one who is all around just herself, i.e., being human. The act of placing her material in front of the film camera, however, means that Schumer is the center of the frame in a way that is foreign to her previous work, as film is a medium which encroaches upon and sheds light on our most personal qualities and inner sanctums; Schumer has made herself completely vulnerable here and in doing so helps to create the human qualities which defy the cinematic idea of what it means to be human. As an actress, Schumer’s crassness and explicit attitude are all still here but are comedically magnified by Appatow’s camera which captures the world of Amy (the character, not actress) as it is, waiting for the right moment before leaping to life for a punchline.
Hader as Conners is as human as Amy. Conner’s relationship to Amy, as well as his best friend Lebron James (Lebron James), is defined by his awkward and quirky personality. Hader’s quirkiness, however, should not misread as the same quirkiness which defines the manic pixie dream girl but as one that is more realistic and thus endearing. Hader brings the awkwardness and quirky personality of his character to a realm that’s made charming not necessarily by the actor’s line delivery but by his physical appearance and mastery of facial expressions that come off as too genuine not to believe or root for.
And while on the subject of cast members, both Lebron James and John Cena add a wonderful and surprising layer of light-hearted humor to the film. Steve (John Cena) is defined by his obsession with body building and for those who are also into the hobby, without spoiling too much, Cena delivers a wonderful joke on the subject of cross-fit. Lebron James as himself magnificently steals the show whenever he’s on screen, with a charm that even puts Hader in his place as the awkward best friend. While it would be limiting to have James continue playing himself on screen, the basketball superstar amateur actor showcases a potential for cinematic dominance within the field of comedy.
In writing Trainwreck, Schumer’s focus isn’t only on dispensing the tropes within cinema centered around women but also in doing what has marked her career as a comedian; satirizing our own world, specifically with a focus that’s defined by her sense of feminism. While the character of Amy does do this, moments in the narrative, such as Amy’s job at a men’s magazine that writes about the objectification of women through the eyes of men, serve as complementary punchlines to the satire and due to the nature of comedy, it is difficult to talk about the jokes, their delivery, and punchlines without spoiling the surprise for readers but rest assured that these moments do exist and that they’re carried out well.
Like Funny People, another film which Apatow displayed a more subdued attitude, Trainwreck can at times drag on its feet. With a runtime of a little over two hours, Schumer seems to have too much to talk about with not enough time. While a multitude of themes do run across the film, some are more developed than others and the ones that aren’t appear tacked on, further increasing the runtime. Sometimes less is more and while Schumer has refined her previous comedic work for the film, what needs to be done now is a refinement of her already refined work, in order to create something goal-oriented.
While Schumer has worked within the confines of television, Trainwreck is her first foray into the world of cinematic writing and there are ideas present which both fascinate and invent yet there exist rough edges that can be done away with. Apatow is more than at home, complimenting Schumer’s writing and humor excellently, while simultaneously guiding the other actors to fit in just as well.