Mid to late summer movie releases are often peppered with non-action-adventure/comic book based films. What that means in terms pure box office economics is risk. Comic book based movies have built in audiences (so do tween/teen book trilogies), and anytime you have destruction and mayhem as the main action (i.e., “San Andreas”), you know summer has arrived and movie theaters are open for business.
Films like “Dope,” “Tangerine,” “Mr. Holmes” and even Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” are anomalies because they aren’t sequels, they don’t derive their plot from comic books, nor do they involve destruction. That’s why they are so risky in economic terms. They often deviate from the norm in terms of audience expectation, bankability for film producers, and vehicles actors use to propel their careers.
“Trainwreck” isn’t groundbreaking, but it does have some surprising performances and genuine comic novelty (at times). The plot is fairly conventional for a romantic comedy, but by flipping standard gender roles, “Trainwreck” provides a platform for Amy Schumer to bring her brand of comedy to the big screen. Her Comedy Central show is very funny, and part of the reason why is because she knows the first rule of comedy: brevity. Dragging out a bit or a joke means dying on the proverbial stage. Alas, Schumer’s script (and Judd Apatow’s direction) ignores the first rule of comedy throughout some of the film.
The story centers on borderline alcoholic and bed-hopping writer Amy Townshend (Schumer) — who works for a magazine that is kind of like a Cosmopolitan for men. The headlines are total clickbait and pitch meetings with the magazine’s editor (Tilda Swinton) are studies in a modern form of yellow journalism (minus the political stuff). It’s all sensationalism with “how to” sections on masturbating at work, telling your girlfriend that you’re not gay, but that she’s boring, and other articles that scream “read me, dammit!”
Amy gets assigned a story about a sports medicine doctor whose work in knee replacement for athletes is pioneering. Amy hates sports, so her editor is hoping for a snarky piece from a non-sports point of view. Amy interviews the doctor, Arron Conners (Bill Hader), and it’s clear that there’s a connection between the two since Aaron can see through Amy’s bullshit, but finds her funny and attractive. After that it’s about girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back. But along the way, there are many wonderful performances that outshine the star. Most notably is LeBron James as himself. James is a tank on the basketball court, but the guy can also act — and he’s very funny. I won’t give away any of what he says in the film, but let me note that he’s a scene-stealer whenever he’s on the screen. The other gem is Colin Quinn as Amy’s bigoted, but lovable dad. Hader is also very good as Aaron — who has to play sweet, responsible, loving, and funny (sometimes all at once). Amy’s sister, Kim (Brie Larson) also displays a combination of wit, sympathy and responsibility while having that sisterly understanding of Amy’s humor. Indeed, many of the supporting cast members are funnier and more interesting than the character of Amy. Yes, she’s her father’s daughter when it comes to sex and drinking, but her character’s dark underbelly gets tedious throughout the film’s 120 minutes. Many of the early comedic sequences fall flat, and it’s only in the second act of the film when the combination of comedy and drama hits its stride — only to resolve itself in a fairly standard conclusion by the third act. There’s hugging and learning in the end, but it seems if some of the bloat was cut from the film, “Trainwreck” could have been a tight and hilarious romp. Instead, Apatow seems to struggle in directing his star. Amy’s assholish core is tiring and it comes very close to making her both unsympathetic and banal. These are not the qualities you want your lead character to project to the audience. Amy’s not quite an anti-hero in “Trainwreck,” rather in Schumer’s quest to revolutionize the rom-com, her character’s cynicism, selfishness, and neuroses are best summed up by one of her ex-boyfriends who says to her, “You’re not a nice person.” That’s a difficult thing for an audience to relate to, and if it wasn’t for the middle act of the film, it’s possible that people may have run for the exits before the closing credits. This is not to suggest that “Trainwreck” is a train wreck of a movie. Rather, if you ride rails of the film to the end, you’ll come away pleased by the journey.