I like Schumer at her most brazen and unapologetic – big-eyed, potty-mouthed, voluptuous and socially challenged while teeter-tottering in high heels and short gold skirt.
The biggest compliment I can pay Amy Schumer, the star and writer of “Trainwreck,” is that the movie made me want to see more of her. Creator of Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer,” she plays a character named, well, Amy, who’s a reporter for a men’s magazine scathingly named “S’Nuff,” whose idea of good journalism is an investigation of garlic’s effect on semen. Amy likes sex, booze and weed, and she’s unrepentant in a way that usurps the male prerogative for such rock ‘n’ roll antics. That makes “Trainwreck” tonic and bracing.
Directed by Judd Apatow – who made his name with bromances about stoner white dudes who perennially extend the termination date for adolescence – this film begins with Amy’s father Gordon (Colin Quinn) lecturing both her and her younger sister Kim that “monogamy isn’t realistic” after his marriage fails.
Twenty-three years later, a hilarious montage of Amy dispatching a slew of one-night stands proves she’s taken Dad’s advice to heart, while Kim has settled into sedate, suburban housewifery. Kim is the “good daughter,” essentially everything Amy is not. Gordon is Amy’s interior failure voice, reminding her that relationships are doomed to fail. The closest thing she has to a steady boyfriend is a bodybuilder whose notion of sex talk is expounding on beta carotene, parroting Nike slogans and code-switching to Mandarin. He’s also vaguely gay.
In part, the comedy turns on the reversal of gender norms. Amy is the one who’s afraid of commitment. The guys in her life can be unexpectedly sensitive at awkward moments. However most of her partners are akin to ice sculptures or Puerto Rican golems.
It’s somewhat predictable that Amy is assigned a story about sports surgeon Aaron (Bill Hader), who works for Doctors Without Borders and believes in teamwork, marriage and kids. He’s almost too “good” to be believed. His best friend is basketball superstar LeBron James, who plays against macho type as a fan of “Downton Abbey” and someone willing to intervene on behalf of Aaron and Amy.
Amy fumbles a claim about having Black friends, and the only Black people in “Trainwreck” are sports celebrities. To her credit, Schumer at least acknowledges the awkwardness of racial discourse, but is this really an improvement over Hollywood’s dumb Black drug dealers, flamboyantly queeny Asian gangsters and the Mike Tyson cameos that populate wedding comedies like “The Hangover?”
The other great comic presence here is Dianna (Tilda Swinton), Amy’s cutthroat British editor who’s done overtime in a tanning parlor. Dianna praises Amy for not being either too pretty or too brainy. Imagine one of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid minions.
“Trainwreck” begins to run out of comic gas when Gordon’s health worsens and Amy and Aaron’s “needs and expectations” clash. Here, the movie treads perilously close to sentimental rom-com territory. After all, Amy herself concedes that her father is a “racist, homophobic drunk” even if he’s also one of the most “alive” people she’s ever known. And it takes nerve to admit in a mainstream comedy that people are contradictory.
I like Schumer at her most brazen and unapologetic – big-eyed, potty-mouthed, voluptuous and socially challenged while teeter-tottering in high heels and short gold skirt – so I’m suspicious about the ending of “Trainwreck.” Its celebration of the cult of American sports is especially problematic. Nor am I sure that Neil Young was right when he sang that “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Let Schumer burn her comedic gifts brightly for as long as she can in the industry, and be as ballsy – what’s the female equivalent of that? – and oppositional as she can be.
— Richard Oyama is interested in meeting women who are not “literary.”
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