“Trainwreck” Offers a Chain of Amusing Anecdotes but a Wreck of a Story

Trainwreck

Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015)

Since I first saw Trainwreck at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, two things have happened. First, the good: much to my delight, I have finally discovered Amy Schumer‘s body of work. Second, the bad: I have soured a bit on her debut feature, as – at this week’s press screening – I did not like it as much as I did four months ago. Based on my experiences with Schumer’s television show, I would have to say that she is an extremely talented sketch-comedy writer and performer. Based on my experiences with Trainwreck, I would have to say that though she remains a talented sketch-comedy writer, she is a rather pedestrian long-form storyteller. Director Judd Apatow’s typical loose and soggy pacing (think This Is 40) doesn’t help much. I laughed a lot in places, but was also bored and frustrated through many an overlong passage. You can’t have everything, I guess.

Schumer plays Amy Townsend, a thirty-something writer (for the fictional S’Nuff Magazine) with relationship issues. Like many a male movie protagonist before her, she boozes it up and sleeps around, taking her pleasure when and how she wants it. She isn’t what one would call happy, but she makes her own choices and that’s the end of it. In the brief flashback that opens the film, we see at least one of the reasons why she is the way she is: 20 years or so earlier, her parents split, and her father explains to Amy and her younger sister how monogamy just isn’t for everyone. The scene is derivative of the opening of Shallow Hal (thanks to my friend Michael Angelella for pointing that out), but it’s also hilarious (and sad). We sense we’re in good hands.

The good humor continues for a while, as we meet an engaging and hilarious cast of characters, including many celebrities not heretofore known for their acting. There’s the great Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) as S’Nuff‘s editor-in-chief; Colin Quinn (Grown Ups) as the philandering father; Vanessa Bayer (from the “Saturday Night Live” of the past five years) as Amy’s best friend and fellow S’Nuff writer, Nikki; Randall Park (The Interview) as another (very funny) co-worker; WWE champion John Cena as Amy’s muscle-bound (sort of) boyfriend, who is one of the best things in the early part of the film; Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins) as Dr. Aaron Conners, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, about whom Amy is assigned to write a story; and a very funny LeBron James (yes, that LeBron James) as a version of himself who is both Conners’ former patient and best friend. Daniel Radcliffe (Kill Your Darlings) and Marisa Tomei (The Lincoln Lawyer) – in a movie-within-the-movie entitled The Dogwalker (which almost feels ripped off from my own short All About George) – are also extremely funny. Rounding out the cast are the ever-reliable Brie Larson (Short Term 12) as Amy’s younger sister, Kim, and comedian Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk with Me) as Kim’s husband, but they are as much a part of what works in the film as a part of the problem. They’re enjoyable, but so underwritten as to feel almost superfluous through much of the proceedings.

Researching her next story, Amy meets Aaron, they hook up (no surprise), and then the rest of the film consists of Amy avoiding the commitment to which we know she will succumb by the end. And that’s where the fun stops. For this is a movie that, though it at first appears to subvert the traditional rom-com genre with its embrace of liberated female sexuality, eventually transforms itself into a rather conventional and conservative example of that genre. Amy must grow up and give up the drinking and sex to be with her one true love. There’s nothing wrong with that trajectory – it’s the foundation upon which civilization is built – but it’s also not that interesting. Along the way, the filmmakers stretch many otherwise good sketches to the breaking point, and add many additional filler scenes, all to bring the final movie in at over two hours. Trainwreck is a lot of fun at times, but begs for additional edits, a brisker pace and a more original script.

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