Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: Trainwreck (2015)

Trainwreck (2015)

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use

Trainwreck is a very, very good movie. Had it been about ten or fifteen minutes shorter, I'd be calling it a classic; in that, it bears the Achilles' heel of many an otherwise hilarious Judd Apatow film, which all too often don't know when to speed up. Even so, it marks a return to form for Apatow after the disappointment of This Is 40, and more importantly, the film introduction of one of the best new comedians in a long while, Amy Schumer, who both stars in this and wrote the script. Schumer is half the reason I loved this film as much as I did, elevating an otherwise run-of-the-mill romantic comedy plot with both hilarious jokes and genuine heart once it called for it. Couple Schumer's great work with solid performances from her co-stars and a host of great cameos that, surprisingly, actually served the story, and you've got a very fun, if overly long, film that stands as one of the best romantic comedies of the year.

Schumer plays Amy Townsend, a fictionalized version of her comic persona who works as a writer at a men's magazine in the vein of GQ or Esquire. Ever since her parents divorced on bad terms, Amy has grown up viewing monogamy as a lie, a lesson that her cheating father imparted on her; she has sex with virtually every man she meets and usually walks out after the first date. Her relationship with her current boyfriend, the alpha-male jock Steven (John Cena, hilariously sending up his wrestling persona), is shallow, and she's basically just using him for the great sex. This starts to crack, however, when she's assigned to write an article about Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a sports doctor who works with a who's who of superstar athletes. She of course sleeps with Aaron in the process of interviewing him, and plans to quickly leave him once she's done writing her story, but Aaron thinks it's something more, and despite Amy's initial wishes, the two start bonding when Aaron helps care for Amy's ill father.

Overall, it's familiar rom-com territory on the surface. For all its raunchy humor, it's not a film that breaks ground with a radical, new, subversive take on the genre, like (500) Days of Summer or Don Jon. However, what makes it work, and keeps it from falling into the sappy trap of so many other "chick flicks", is the high quality with which this timeworn story is pulled off, mostly thanks to Schumer's script. Both Amy and Aaron are fully fleshed-out romantic leads, with a great deal of the film's story developing their non-romantic relationships and work lives. Amy's boss Dianna (a glammed-up, nearly unrecognizable Tilda Swinton), her sister Kim (Brie Larson), and her father Gordon (Colin Quinn) all play important roles in her life, while Aaron's character is also informed by his friendships with the various athletes he works with, including LeBron James and his current patient Amar'e Stoudemire (both playing themselves in surprisingly sizable roles, especially on LeBron's part). They both have several layers beneath their personas. It's in these scenes where we care about Amy and Aaron as people, not just as romantic partners whose lives revolve around one another, which makes their relationship mean that much more. Because we've grown to know them individually, we want to see everything work out for them together, and not just because they have great chemistry (though Schumer and Hader most definitely do go great together). You see, all you hacks who write shitty Katherine Heigl movies? If you just learned to write human beings instead of caricatures of best friends, handsome guys, and career women, maybe the words "romantic comedy" wouldn't be virtually box-office poison. Learn from Amy Schumer, people.

Admittedly, however, this is a double-edged sword. It's also in many of these scenes where this film's biggest problem comes out of the woodwork: padding. Several scenes in this movie could've easily been trimmed for time, and when all those potential edits are taken together, at least ten minutes come right out and the film moves along a lot nicer. Apatow's body of work has a lot of great qualities, but good pacing has never been one of them, and while this isn't the worst film of his in that department, there were definitely large portions of this film that slowed to a virtual crawl. At the very least, Apatow needs an editor who knows how to trim his films the right way in order to keep them moving nicely rather than lingering on scenes even after they've spent their comedic and emotional payoff. Maybe his protege Paul Feig could give him a few pointers on that, as Bridesmaids, Spy, and even The Heat were noticeably better in that department.

Fortunately, even many of the slower moments still had enough good jokes that I couldn't hate them too badly. The most important part of any comedy, romantic or otherwise, is the quality of the humor, and oh does this film hit the mark. I'm gonna keep this part short so I don't spoil many of the jokes, but rest assured that I didn't have any problem with this film's sense of humor. Schumer's just as good at writing and delivering hilarious comedy as she is at an interesting romantic story, here especially showing her knack for "blue" humor that she uses to great effect on her Comedy Central show. She's fearless, letting fly with all manner of dick jokes, pop culture jokes (who knew the entire Knicks roster was into Downton Abbey?), and a setup that pays off brilliantly in the end with a great takedown of a bit of slut-shaming Amy did earlier in the film. (Being a cheerleader isn't so easy now, huh?) The jokes are where this film's real subversion lies, as a lot of the sex jokes that, in many a similar Apatow-esque "bro-mantic comedy", would involve the male protagonist and his dude-bro buddies instead involve Amy and her basic friends, turning many of them on their head. The humor does slow down in the last forty-five minutes or so (again, those pacing problems I mentioned), but even then, it still remains as an undercurrent, and there are still enough solid gags for me to keep my smile on my face. It's a true mark of progress and women's equality: women can be just as crude, boorish, and sex-obsessed as men are.

Score: 4 out of 5

It had some big problems with pacing and running too slow in the third act, but even with them, Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer have turned in a remarkable romantic comedy, one that should hopefully elevate Schumer to much bigger and better things in the future.

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