Amy Schumer is on a roll lately, largely based on the success of her show Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central. And, in what seems to be the latest sign that a comedian has made it, she’s been the subject of speculation that she’s actually a terrible person who should be pilloried and never listened to again (spoiler alert: maybe?). As iffy as she can be on race, Schumer’s feminism game is on point, and so she was bound to find a home in the recent spate of female-driven R-rated comedies that was kicked off by Bridesmaids.
Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy have dominated that field for the last few years, including last month’s underappreciated Spy, but Bridesmaids was produced by Judd Apatow, who gave Feig’s career its real kickstart in Freaks and Geeks. With Apatow directing Trainwreck and Schumer providing the script, the result is hilarious.
It’s also probably the most straightforward inversion of the usual Apatow manchild-romcom. Amy (Schumer) has refused to grow into responsible adulthood; her version of “not drinking” is stopping at four, and her walk of shame in the opening sequence involves the Staten Island Ferry. She gets this from her father (Colin Quinn), who stressed to nine-year-old Amy and her five-year-old sister Kim that “monogamy is not realistic”. And while that might be debatable in terms of open and honest communication between partners, Amy has grown up to abhor any real relationship longer than a one-night stand.
Amy’s sister, on the other hand, has run the other way; she has married Tom (Mike Birbiglia) and adopted his son Allister. Amy finds them both cloying as hell, and they reinforce her policy of halfheartedly dating the obviously closeted Steven (John Cena) and sleeping around on the side.
I don’t mean to suggest that she’s an awful person, though it’s interesting to notice the constellation of assumptions that pop up the moment we start describing a female version of the overgrown boys that populate so many of our comedies. She’s warm and friendly to the local homeless guy (Dave Attell) and her friend Nikki (Vanessa Bayer) from her job at the lads’ mag “S’nuff”. And she’s more than just her party-loving ways; her hard-driving, Anna Wintour-style boss in Dianna (an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) assigns her another writer’s pitch to cover Amar’e Stoudemire’s upcoming knee operation despite the fact that Amy is bored to death by all things sports.
But then she meets the doctor who’s going to perform the surgery, Aaron (Bill Hader). Not only is he a rising star in sports medicine and best friends with LeBron James, he’s going to be honored for his work with Doctors Without Borders. And soon dating doesn’t seem so bad.
Hader and James do excellent work in the roles usually occupied by the leading woman and her friend, and James is the surprise breakout comedy star of the movie. True, he’s playing a fictionalized version of himself, but he’s a more believable actor than any NBA star I’ve seen since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and he sells his gags with a deadpan delivery worthy of Leslie Nielsen. For that matter, Cena is pretty fantastic himself as he upends the character he’s been playing on WWE for the last decade or so.
Besides getting a boatload of actors and celebrities to chip in, even just for a cameo, Apatow does his best job of directing since The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The script is clearly inspired by the kind of movies Apatow has become known for producing over the years, but this is Schumer’s show and he’s content to just coax it into shape rather than stamp his own personal brand on it. And Schumer, for her part, generously offers up the spotlight to the rest of the cast rather than claiming every good joke for herself.
The one place the movie really falls down is when they decide to go a little darker and more introspective for a moment. Yes, it’s during the inevitable breakup section, when Amy needs something to reset her priorities and give her a kick in the pants towards the script’s version of redemption. Still, thoughtful moments really aren’t Schumer’s strong suit here.
That awkward stretch aside, Trainwreck delivers consistent laughs from start to finish. I can only hope that, out of all the R-rated comedies I’ve enjoyed this summer, this is the one that actually makes inroads at the box office.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass.