A traditional romcom with an entirely untraditional difference: a strong, sexual female lead.
August 03, 2015
You can pick a Judd Apatow film from a mile off. Bromantic plot-lines, improvised dialogue and gross-out humour are his unmistakable calling cards, to say nothing of his vow to include at least one penis in every project. It’s just that, Trainwreck is also a Judd Apatow film, only you don’t realise it until his name appears in the final credits. From start to finish, it feels like an Amy Schumer film, and that’s a credit to both of them.
If you don’t know who Amy Schumer is, you probably don’t have the internet. The current queen of comedy has had an amazing few years, including her own sketch show on Comedy Central, a sold-out stand up tour, countless guest spots and a hosting gig for the 2015 MTV Movie Awards. Trainwreck, which Schumer both wrote and stars in, is her first foray into film, and it’s a solid (if also circumspect) debut.
Schumer plays Amy Townsend, a relentless party girl and writer for the trashy magazine S’nuff who's assigned to write a profile on celebrity sports surgeon Dr Aaron Conners (SNL’s Bill Hader). Amy soon finds herself in a serious, committed relationship with the doctor, one that flies in the face of her lifelong dedication to polyamory, making Trainwreck a traditional romcom with an entirely untraditional difference: a female lead playing the ‘guy role’ – drinking, swearing and laying waste to one sexual conquest after the next. To call it refreshing is a giant understatement.
In the lead, Schumer falls short of an assured performance, but hits enough high notes to carry the film through its weaker moments. Her trademark honesty-bordering-on-overshare is evident throughout, proving endearing even when her character’s words and actions are anything but. Amy Townsend isn’t a particularly likeable person, but like her you do all the same. Opposite her, Hader is pleasantly reserved as the good doctor and greater man, whose goofy grin and sexual naiveté nicely round out the ‘opposites attract’ motif.
But by far the most pleasant surprise is the performance by NBA superstar LeBron James as Aaron's former patient-cum-best friend. A few years back, Gary Oldman and Jimmy Kimmel teamed up for an amusing short called “Actors Against Acting Athletes”, in which Oldman railed against the influx of sportspeople in film – particularly basketball players. Cameos aside (e.g. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s turn in Flying High), it’s an entirely reasonable rant, especially since you’d be hard pressed to name many classics amongst Shaquille O’Neal’s twenty-three listed acting credits, let alone the twenty-six boasted by Dennis Rodman.
James, however, is a terrific comic presence in Trainwreck, gleefully presenting himself as a Cleveland-obsessed romantic with a profound investment in Aaron’s love life and Scrooge-like stinginess, insisting on splitting every check despite his estimated net worth of $325 million. The scene between him and Aaron playing some casual one-on-one whilst discussing commitment and intimacy is arguably the finest in the film.
There are many other cameos in Trainwreck. Some are clever (Daniel Radcliffe as himself in an art film called The Dogwalker, and WWE star John Cena as Schumer’s erstwhile boyfriend), but most are either unnecessary or downright bad (none more so than Matthew Broderick and Marv Albert in a bizarre intervention scene). Schumer’s the hottest ticket in town right now, so it’s understandable that Hollywood would be queuing up to get in on the action, but successful cameos require the deftest of touches to avoid completely breaking a film’s flow and reeking of ‘why not?’ stink – which wafts in more than a few times here.
With a shorter run time and a tighter third act, Trainwreck might have proven itself a terrific romcom. As it stands it’s still a solid comedy that even boasts a few serious moments to tug at the heartstrings. Without question, Schumer’s only getting started, and we eagerly await the next instalment from this spectacularly funny comic.