Saturday, July 25, 2015


 3.5 / 5 

If she were a man, Amy Townsend would be a sexually prolific heavy drinker who's assertive about his career.  A comedy might be made about him, one where he finds love and sees the error of his ways, but those ways would be portrayed as manly, as almost aspirational.  The male version of Amy Townsend wouldn't be a "train wreck."

But women who drink, who dabble in drugs, who choose their career over romance and (gasp!) child-rearing are still, even in the 21st century, seen as troubled, and the only problem with the otherwise funny, sad, wise, sometimes hilarious Trainwreck is that its writer and star apparently sees her character as deeply flawed.

Trainwreck begins with a wildly inappropriate, graphically sexual introduction to its lead character, a woman who writes at a magazine aimed at men, the kind of magazine that publishes articles probing whether a man's semen tastes different after eating garlic, that promotes exactly the kind of over-the-top, life's-too-short-to-care mentality that brings the double-standard at the movie's core into sharp relief: When men are involved, sex, drugs and booze are just part of life; when a woman partakes, she's wildly inappropriate.

Amy doesn't care -- neither Amy the character nor Amy Schumer, the actress who plays her and wrote the incisive screenplay.  And yet, the movie keeps insisting there's something wrong with Amy.  The woman likes sex, she drinks a lot and sometimes smokes weed: Get over it.

Thank goodness, though, that Trainwreck doesn't exist on that one note.  Amy's alleged train-wreck-edness really (not surprisingly) masks a fear of commitment, a fear of growing up -- she's Adam Sandler if Adam Sandler were capable of introspection.  Watching her grow into a new, fuller, more hesitant person is what Trainwreck is all about, and on that level, it's deeply satisfying; yes, it's funny, it's really funny, but it goes much further than that, offering unexpected pathos and warmth.

Schumer and director Judd Apatow have made a movie that reminded me most of Billy Wilder's indescribably wonderful The Apartment, a film that starts out as a comedy and ends up as a raw and painful punch to the gut.  Trainwreck is lighter and fluffier than that, but only by a little; there's a shocking scene that occurs about two-thirds of the way through the film that left the audience I was with gasping and doing the unexpected in what they thought was going to be a gross-out comedy: They were holding back tears.

In its observations of early 21st-century life and romantic and sexual roles, Trainwreck also brought to mind James L. Brooks' comedy-drama Broadcast News -- especially in the way it seems to still be asking, almost three decades after that movie was made, whether a woman can be strong and vulnerable, whether she can be sexual and self-confident.  It's fascinating that we need to ask, but if the question is still there, we could do worse than have it answered by a movie this capable.

Though it could be shorn of 20 minutes, and Bill Hader's boyfriend is presented at times as slightly too emasculated, slightly too submissive (and not in the sexual way -- though, yes, in one creepy-funny scene, the movie does indeed go there), Trainwreck spends far less time asking you to laugh at Amy than laugh with her at the ridiculousness that surrounds her.  Sometimes, it's overtly silly, like her homosexually confused body-builder boyfriend (John Cena); sometimes it's ludicrous, like the boss (Tilda Swinton) who seems to have watched The Devil Wears Prada one too many times; and sometimes its at the shocking and affecting ways her own father (Colin Quinn) instilled in Amy some warped views of the world.

Trainwreck covers a lot of ground, and while it is no doubt too long, it is also relievedly insightful.  It presents a fully grown, fully aware, independent woman not as an object of ridicule, but as a subject for serious examination -- and does so with deep heart, enormous humor, and, ultimately, fine results. While it's not for the easily offended, the truth is: neither is life.

Viewed July 25, 2015 -- ArcLight Hollywood


Sunday, July 12, 2015


 3 / 5 

It's been three decades since Joel Goodson got caught in his Risky Business on his way to an Ivy League school, and Dope is a showcase for the Hollywood truism that a good story never gets old.

Dope is essentially Risky Business re-engineered to the hip-hop age, substituting drugs for sex, maintaining as much of that 1983 comedy's uncomfortable balance between good humor and disturbing unseemliness.  Its main character, Malcolm (Shameik Moore), isn't as effortlessly cool as Tom Cruise's upper-class Joel, but he's just as much of a go-getter, and much as an interview to be admitted to Princeton figured into the earlier film, so, too, does an interview for Harvard play a critical role in Dope.  In fact, the parallels are numerous, but the familiarity doesn't harm the enjoyment of Dope, and younger audiences are bound to be completely unaware of the similarities.

Malcolm is too smart for his surroundings, the crime-plagued, troubled Inglewood area of Los Angeles.  His best friends Jib (Tony Revolori, proving The Grand Budapest Hotel was no fluke) and lesbian tomboy Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) proudly proclaim themselves as the geeks of the neighborhood, not at all interested in crime -- though they share an infatuation with early '90s hip-hop culture, down to Malcom's high-rise flattop and his colorful clothes.

A bike ride home changes everything, and in short order Malcom, Jib and Diggy are at the birthday party of one of the street thugs, where things go horrendously, violently wrong.  Just as Joel's dalliance with prostitute Lana led to unexpected places, Malcom and his friends start shooting straight down a slippery slope that finds them selling the street drug Molly.

It's an exhilarating, mesmerizing adventure, as funny as it is terrifying.  Despite the sex, violence and gleeful use of the "N" word, Dope maintains an attitude that at times is almost wholesome.  You'd never mistake Dope for a Disney movie, but in some ways the hijinks aren't all that far removed from the screwball antics of Dexter Riley and Medfield College.  Kids are kids, even if they're learning how to sell illegal drugs.

That sweet silliness, though, is a little off-putting.  Does writer-director Rick Famuyiwa have a perspective on the ways Malcolm moves from being an innocent guy overwhelmed by circumstance to being a full-on drug dealer?  Does the film's portrayal of street drugs mean it approves of the substances?  I hate to sound like a prude, but the drugs on display aren't exactly harmless, yet Dope plays them mostly for laughs, even when it takes detours into some moments of shocking violence.  It never really attempts to comment, either, on the way drugs and crime have impacted the lives of its characters -- though at the last minute it gets pretty preachy about the plight of low-income blacks.

Then again, Risky Business didn't exactly come down hard on organized prostitution and the crime that accompanies it; it was intended as a comedy with edge, which is exactly what Dope is, too.  Despite its most off-putting moments, Dope is fast and funny, with a great visual style and a strong sense of storytelling.  I could quibble about whether it's really as sharply original as it thinks it is, but sometimes, as a moviegoer, you've just gotta say, what the f---.

Viewed July 12, 2015 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks