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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Trainwreck
Universal // R // July 17, 2015
Review by Tyler Foster | posted July 17, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Over the past two or three weeks, while the Trainwreck press tour made the rounds, criticism of a couple of writer/star Amy Schumer's old stand-up routines made headlines, including a Washington Post op-ed (by someone who hadn't even seen the material in question), resulting in two apologies by Schumer, one arguably more sympathetic toward audience members than the other. However, as a fan of her television show, "Inside Amy Schumer", it's clear that her comedy, which may not be perfect, is constantly evolving -- compare nearly any sketch from the first season to the third season, and the newer material comes off more pointed and incisive. Complaints about edgy comedy like Schumer's are often mistakenly labeled censorship, or worse, the product of a politically correct agenda, but identifying a joke as racially or sexually insensitive is, hopefully, an analysis of the joke itself, not the comedian as a person. Some of her jokes may not work, but Schumer's obvious desire to hone her material and position herself better speaks much louder than the duds.

Trainwreck itself represents another development for Schumer. On her show, her conversations with passerby and one-on-one interview segments showcase a more personal side of the comedian, but Trainwreck taps into some of her real-life experiences with less of a barrier between truth and spoof. Her character, a sexually adventurous 30-something resistant to intimacy, is also named Amy, and when we first meet her, the closest thing she has to a boyfriend is a beefy wrestler (John Cena), a detail right out of Schumer's personal life. The movie also gives her an opportunity to try her hand at drama, which she excels at; scenes between her and her MS-afflicted father (Colin Quinn) or her married sister (Brie Larson) could stand up solely on the basis of Schumer's performance, which has a sincerity that the dialogue occasionally lacks.

However, Trainwreck is not Schumer's creation alone: her partner is director Judd Apatow, who may also be trying to reinvent himself. The film marks the first movie Apatow has directed which he didn't write himself, following the disastrous critical and tepid commercial reception for his Knocked Up semi-sequel This is 40. Complaints routinely lobbed at Apatow are less severe than the ones directed at Schumer: his movies are too long and self-indulgent, he's blind to the way his lifestyle affects his perspective, and his films follow a fairly predictable emotional trajectory. Sure enough, despite his attempt to stretch and Schumer's distinctive voice, Trainwreck bears most of these hallmarks. Scenes in which Cena yells homoerotic threats at a fellow moviegoer or Schumer goofs off using a computer-generated projection of her muscles in action are funny, but they have that any-riff-that-sticks, one-after-another feeling that Apatow is famous for. A plot thread concerns Amy and her sister fighting about the cost of their father's nursing home, but despite working for a supposedly scummy print magazine (run by Tilda Swinton, having fun playing uncharacteristically vapid and self-centered), Amy can afford a seemingly spacious loft apartment, and a related question about her father's house not selling comes up early and disappears without resolution just as quickly. There's also a scene with some bizarre "as themselves" cameos that feels dropped in from another movie, one of whom makes no sense at all.

To be fair, too many funny one-liners and a bit of inexplicable luxury aren't really problems so much as an artist's familiar crutches, and they are toned down. What hurts Trainwreck more is the half-baked nature of the movie's central relationship between Amy and Aaron (Bill Hader), a sports doctor she's given an assignment to interview. In Amy's mind, Aaron is just another in a long line of one-night stands, but Aaron's kindly persistence slowly begins to break down Amy's emotional barriers. Schumer and Hader are fun to watch together, but their chemistry feels a bit light, possibly because the film is being pulled in several other directions at once. In addition to Amy's family members and other lovers, the movie also makes room for Aaron's friendship with LeBron James, Amy's friendship with cheery and clueless co-worker Nikki (Vanessa Bayer), an impending promotion, a big surgery, and the development of the article itself. Many of these other people and threads are funny (James scores some of the film's biggest laughs), but the result is that a big chunk of Amy's development from one person to another is covered in a montage spoofing Manhattan (complete with an awkward Woody Allen joke).

It's funny that the same person who would give Schumer the platform to take another giant leap forward would also be the one holding her back. As an actor, she's fearless, diving into an extended, awkward dirty-talk session with a buck-naked Cena, or showing off an even more impressive set of physical skills in a charming finale, and in Trainwreck's best scenes, she exudes an emotional vulnerability that most comedians don't achieve until they're older and wiser. It's frustrating that these moments don't connect to a cohesive narrative because Apatow can't let go of his loose, improvisational style (which works great for Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly comedies, but gets in the way here). Details like a barely-there voice-over and the excess of subplots and characters feel like Schumer's script being buried under Apatow's stream-of-consciousness style. Calling the film itself a trainwreck would be overstating it, because it is a funny and occasionally sweet movie, but it's still at odds with itself, made by two people going in different directions.

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