Trainwreck (2015)

This opinion piece contains spoilers.

There’s something about the oil and water with Trainwreck; the latest from director Judd Apatow and comedian Amy Schumer. On the one hand we’ve got an enjoyable enough crude comedy which sees Schumer as Amy; a problematic journalist who tries not to aspire for too much in case it gets in the way of her social life. On the other hand, we can feel the saccharine handprints of Apatow’s inability to reign in the pathos. A rot that set in with the dramedy, Funny People, some would argue. The sum of these parts being a patchy affair which see several plots overlapping for precedence.

The character of Amy is an extension of the persona Schumer has a made a career out of. Which, in a world where Seth Rogan has basically played the same character, even in Green Hornet, is not a point of criticism. Far from it. When we first see Amy returning from a one night stand, we‘re introduced to a character who totters in high heels on the line between being offensive, but not enough that it’ll stop you rooting for her. Even when later in the film her boyfriend (John Cena) finds out Amy has been in an open relationship without him, she is still the underdog to be carried to victory.

Meanwhile, Amy is also juggling family issues: a sickly father, who was largely absent in her formative years, and a younger sister who, despite smiles, doesn’t see eye to eye with her elder sibling. This where a lot of the ‘heart’ of Trainwreck is to be found. Amy’s father is sat grumbling in a retirement waiting to die, and her sister would rather he did so in a cheaper home. It’s hinted that Daddy dearest wasn’t father of the year. However, nothing really comes of this as it’s played out rather quickly that Amy is always right in this situation and little sister needs to suck it up.

It’s refreshing to have a female lead, and one that’s calling the shots on screenwriting duties. However, something just didn’t settle right in Trainwreck’s second half.

When Amy is given an assignment to cover Dr Aaron Conners, a sports doctor played by Bill Hader, they naturally don’t get along. Aaron is somewhat taken aback by her uncouthness and Amy finds the whole idea of sports rather boring. It’s kind of the set-up that helps romantic comedies defecate money on a regular basis. A couple of drinks and a one night stand later and Aaron is all in for a proper relationship. A surprise to Amy who was just looking for a bit of fun, and yet finds herself willing to give it a go.

Once Amy and Aaron are 6 weeks into their relationship, the strain begins to show. Not just on Amy’s face as she realizes she’s going legit steady with someone for the first time ever, but in the narrative itself. Trainwreck loses its way as we’re subjected to numerous protracted scenes that were probably a lot of fun to film but add nothing. Not because they’re superfluous, but because they’re dead ends.

During their first fight, Aaron confesses he struggles with Amy’s promiscuousness. First thoughts are that the film is going to tackle the concept of slut-shaming and the territoriality sitting heavily in the belly of men that stops them from accepting that women have, will continue to have, lives outside of the bubble of their relationship. Yes, Amy has had many lovers, but it certainly should not be the concern of Aaron, nor a litmus test of whether they can stay together. However, instead, the scene simply becomes a reason to display Amy’s inability to handle grown-up situations. But we’ve already seen that. We’ve seen it several times through the course of the movie. It’s a scene that mines for laughs when it could be courting character growth.

Yes, the argument could be made that centring the conversation on Aaron’s feelings takes Amy’s agency away. Which is a valid point IF it weren’t for the fact that soon after the argument we’re treated to a scene of Aaron grumbling about how ‘psychotic’ Amy is when she’s angry. It just smacks false. As too does the glib couple of minutes that are given to Aaron later in the film to think long and hard about how mean he is. Meanwhile, Amy takes on a decathlon of self-improvement, which oddly for our heroine mostly happens off-screen, because after all, she needs to change who she is if she wants to make her way in life.

The main issue for Amy appears to be her drinking. We are routinely told that her drinking is out of hand, but we’re never shown any true evidence of this. Well, there’s the scene where Aaron gives her some serious side-eye for wanting a second glass of wine at a luncheon. Oh and occasionally she smokes a joint, which is never shown to impede on her work or relationships. In fact, again, it’s only through meeting the straight edged Aaron that her lifestyle comes into question. In the paper, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, author Laura Mulvey discusses how the reality of the female comes second the want of the male. So whilst Aaron likes Amy for who she is, he seems to really like when she changes who she is. No one is asking Aaron to be like the straight-laced Dean of an 80s college movie; lighting up a doobie in the final scene and partying with the kids. However, there should have be some give and take surely. No, instead Amy is made perform literal cartwheels in transformation whilst Adam nods sagely from the sidelines.

With all that hanging in the balance, the second half of Trainwreck and conclusion – which is actually very funny – are dampened. Trainwreck has an enjoyable premise and is a lot of fun. Perhaps if the film was less about people making Amy change and more about her making changes, this would have worked more.

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