I think when we look back years from now, we’ll only begin to comprehend just how Judd Apatow managed to shape the way we do modern American comedy, for better and for worse. Anytime there’s a character-driven, R-rated comedy that explores the complexities of modern relationships, you can trace the influence back to Judd Apatow somehow. On the other hand, whenever you see crass, bland-looking comedies with annoying characters that are constantly shouting insults and one-liners at each other for what feels like forever because they want to show off their improv skills, you could also trace that back to Judd Apatow. I actually really like most of his films including Funny People, so that’ll give you an idea as to where I stand regarding Apatow. The big difference with his latest film, Trainwreck, is not written by him, but it is written by comedian Amy Schemer.
After a nasty divorce, Gordon Townsend (Colin Quinn) pushes his two daughters into believing that “monogamy isn’t realistic.” Flashing forward 23 years, we follow the older daughter, Amy (Amy Schumer), who lives a carefree lifestyle while also working for a magazine, headed by Dianna (Tilda Swinton). One day, Amy is assigned a piece where she is to write about Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a physician that works with athletes. However, things hit off when the two meet and Amy finds herself conflicted between her desire to live happy-go-lucky and her increasing desire to be with Aaron.
The first thing I want to get across is that Trainwreck is really good, great in fact. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed to a certain degree. I wasn’t totally familiar with Amy Schumer’s work, aside from some of her appearances on talk shows, so I watched a bunch of sketches from her show, Inside Amy Schumer, for preparation. Just from those sketches, I can tell that Amy Schumer is an incredibly talented writer and a phenomenal comedic presence. So, I am a bit disappointed at the fact that what we get from her first script is a straightforward rom-com. Despite the subversive, clever and satirical elements that I find in a lot of her sketches, the only real change-up from other rom-coms, or even other Judd Apatow films, is the gender reversal between the two leads. This time it’s the woman who is refusing to grow up, acting wildly with all the drinking and sex that New York City can offer, and it’s the man who is the one that gets the woman to think their lifestyle choices through and act responsibly. It doesn’t take away from how good the final product is, but considering that I can tell that Amy Schumer is capable to doing more interesting things (which, to be fair, are seen in plenty of moments in the film – I’ll get into more detail later), it is a bit of a bummer because, to me, it’s the one thing that prevents an otherwise great movie from entering Best of the Year level quality. Who knows, maybe she is saving a crazy idea for a second film that she can do after proving to be a success with critics and at the box-office, which seems inevitable given the numbers this past weekend.
While Amy Schumer is definitely the face, heart and soul of the project, it is fairly clear that this is very much a Judd Apatow film. It fits perfectly in his unique style of “coming-of-age movies about people who are already legal adults” that all his movies (with the exception of This is 40) have been about. The most interesting aspect about the film is the way it explored the relationship between Amy and her father, Gordon. He has developed multiple sclerosis and lives in an assisted living facility. Amy visits quite often while her younger sister, Kim (played by Brie Larson), resents her father and wants to move him to a cheaper facility. It’s an interesting dynamic seeing Amy and Gordon because there is a lot you can read into it. He’s been the one father figure her entire life and she has obviously taken his words to heart as a child. It has led to the crazy lifestyle that she continues far into her adulthood, and given that it’s a lifestyle that indulges in cheap thrills and short-term pleasures, it makes sense of her to be much more defensive of her father whenever she talks about him to Kim. These scenes revolving around the father-daughter relationship was some of the most engaging parts of the film, and not just on a comedic level, but on a dramatic level as well. The film does have those sudden turns to drama that I know some people are annoyed at whenever comedies do them, but it is one of the things that Apatow does very well, and Amy Schumer’s screenplay does a good job at earning that catharsis within the dramatic and emotional moments. It does balance that character-study with the rom-com side of the film fairly well, and fortunately it doesn’t drag quite as hard as some of Judd Apatow’s other work (though there are a few scenes that I think could easily be cut out).
As a romance, it’s perfectly serviceable. It is driven purely by the two leads, Amy Schumer and Bill Hader, both unconventional leads by typical Hollywood standards, but they prove to work wonders together. Their chemistry is great, their back-and-forths are very natural and they do bring the best out of each other during light and heavy moments. It is one of the more predictable parts of the film, but they breathe a lot of life into it. It also helps that everyone in the supporting cast is on point. Tilda Swinton is unrecognizable as Amy’s boss, and it’s obvious she’s having a blast with the role. Colin Quinn was fantastic as Amy’s father. He is so good in the few scenes he has that if he had a few more moments on screen, especially in the second half, I think there would be some serious Oscar buzz. The rest of the supporting cast is full of great comedians who do stellar work like Randall Park, Mike Birbiglia, Jon Glaser, Vanessa Bayer, Dave Attell and a bunch of others (though Leslie Mann is nowhere to be found which is strange for an Apatow film). Even LeBron James and John Cena are hilarious; Cena especially has some of the biggest laughs in the film early on. I will be upset if we don’t start seeing him in more comedies. I wish Brie Larson had a bit more to do, but she still manages to make a big, lively impression with what she had.
Despite going on a bit of a tangent earlier, Trainwreck is still a great film. It’s really funny, smart, it balances its sweetness and raunchiness with finesse and Amy Schumer manages to prove she can easily carry a film and write a sharp screenplay with thoughtful and introspective character growth. It’s easily the best Apatow film since Knocked Up as well. I can hardly remember when the last really good rom-com was, but Trainwreck is easily the most refreshing take on the genre in a while and definitely one of the better comedies this year. At the very least, it gets you excited for what Amy Schumer might have in store for her next project, whatever it may be.