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


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