TRAINWRECK Movie Review – Goes Where Too Many Rom-Coms Have Gone Before
Anyone expecting a subversion of romantic-comedy conventions, let alone a subversive rom-com (or anti-rom-com) will be sorely disappointed by Amy Schumer’s first feature-length film, Trainwreck. It flips some conventions and with them, audience expectations and perceptions of heterosexual relationships, albeit of a certain class and color (or lack thereof), by making Schumer’s character, Amy, the “trainwreck” of the title, a promiscuous (cue anti-slut-shaming only to embrace it later), hard-drinking, pot-smoking, and otherwise commitment-averse woman slowing inching her way toward the big 3-0 (when playtime supposedly ends and adulthood begins, unless, of course, it doesn’t). There’s more than ample promise in Trainwreck’s premise, up to and including the skewering of societal gender norms, but curiously — and it should be added, disappointingly — it embraces those norms wholeheartedly by the time the end credits roll.
When we meet Amy (the character, not the comedian), she’s drunkenly enjoying the fruits of a one-night stand. In a clever twist on heterosexual norms, it’s Amy who, seconds after she orgasms, falls asleep on her date. She also breaks her “no sleepover” rule, but it’s a minor consequence. At work, Amy’s a rising star, an entertainment journalist (she actually gets paid no less) for a men’s magazine, S’Nuff, that exclusively caters to dude-bros and frat-bros. Amy doesn’t have a problem with the magazine’s editorial focus. In fact, she’s managed to ingratiate herself into the good graces of her very bad-acting boss, Dianna (Tilda Swinton, unrecognizable under layers of tanning spray and a long, flowing wig), putting Amy in position for a promotion to executive editor and presumably, more money (though money never seems to be a concern for Amy, at least not personally).
Before Amy can get that coveted promotion, she has to write an article on a sports doctor, Aaron (Bill “Prince of Deadpan” Hader). They seemingly have nothing in common, but nothing, not even ethics in entertainment/sports writing journalism, stand in the way of a romantic relationship. What starts off as endearingly offbeat, with thinly veiled, indirect insults (not at each other, but each other’s interests), rapidly gives way to rom-com clichés, including the obligatory montage. While Schumer and director Judd Apatow (This Is Forty, Funny People, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad) lightly skewer those rom-com clichés, they also embrace them, simultaneously allowing moviegoers to both enjoy the critique, however shallow and ultimately unrewarding, of rom-com conventions while enjoying them unironically. Apatow worked closely with Schumer as she developed her screenplay and its shows, especially during a downer of a third act that eschews laughs for pathos and the obligatory break-up/reconciliation scenes typical of rom-coms.
Schumer and Apatow also go for the heartstrings via Amy’s strained relationship with her father, Gordon (Colin Quinn). It’s Gordon, a lifelong serial cheater/womanizer, who gave an impressionable, preteen Amy the “no commitments” romantic advice that turned her into an all-around commitment-phobe. Neither time, experience, or a serious, life-threatening illness has softened Gordon, but that doesn’t stop Amy from visiting him regularly at his nursing home nor sparring with her sister, Kim (Brie Larson), over moving Gordon to a less expensive assisted care facility. Despite their conflict, it’s just as clear that Kim represents an ideal both to Amy and through Amy, the audience. She’s married, she’s a stepmother, and she’s pregnant. Amy’s self-realization and/or self-actualization eventually comes through exposure to Kim’s all-around goodness, not to mention Kim’s function as the epitome of heterosexual, heteronormative relationships (e.g., monogamy, marriage, children), an ideal that forces Amy toward uncomfortable emotional, personal, and professional truths Trainwreck doesn’t quite earn, but still expects audiences to pretend it has.
Those truths extend, of course, to her relationship with Aaron. He’s a nice guy personified, not to mention materially well off. He can also call “LeBron James” (or a reasonable facsimile) his best friend. James’ ably plays off his public persona, essaying a somewhat modest, penny-pinching athlete, and Aaron’s social support network rolled up into one. To call James a scene-stealer would be apt, but it also highlights how hollow, bland, and ultimately patriarchal Aaron really is. He initially embraces Amy’s wildness, but quickly does an about-face, all but demanding she conform to the equivalent of his nice guy persona (e.g., no drinking, no partying, etc.). Yet somehow he’s the ideal partner Amy should have. Ultimately, Trainwreck throws out its mildly subversive moments to unapologetically embrace rom-com conventions and clichés and with them a particularly regressive view of romantic relationships.