The latest film from writer/director Judd Apatow (the celebrated Knocked Up and the widely despised but, I think, brilliant This is 40) is just as much an Amy Schumer joint. The current stand-up comedy queen and creator of hit television series Inside Amy Schumer writes and stars in the overstuffed and rough-edged, but undeniably entertaining rom-com Trainwreck. Review after the jump.
From a young age Amy Townsend (Schumer) has taken her father’s mantra that monogamy isn’t realistic to heart. Now a writer for men’s magazine S’nuff and in her early 30’s, she continues to live by that credo. Uninhibited by what she perceives to be stifling romantic commitment, she is a freewheeling partier, sleeping around and always drinking too much. When she finds herself starting to fall for the subject of the new article she’s writing, a charming and successful sports doctor named Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), Amy starts to consider that there might be someone out there she is willing to commit to, and begins to reconsider her wild ways.
With such an immense volume of runtime – at 122 minutes it is simply too long – and relentless barrage of jokes there is a lot of filler in Trainwreck. All of Apatow’s films are arguably too long, but I have appreciated them in the past because they have a real dedication to establishing a genuine connection to the often-unsympathetic core characters. But Apatow’s scripts also have an interest in building a deep ensemble of credible supporting characters and exploring the family unit – often depicting the differences between people (friends, lovers, new family) and their inability to get along. Here in Schumer’s Trainwreck, these themes are once again explored, as Amy faces pressure from her boss, has to deal with a fractured family and come to terms with this unusual new relationship. While writer-star Schumer’s voice resonates throughout, Trainwreck is still very much a Judd Apatow film.
Amy finds herself at odds with her married and newly pregnant younger sister Kim (Brie Larson) when their long-ill father Gordon (Colin Quinn) is moved into an assisted care facility. Amy’s relationship with her father is close, despite his life checkered with problems (infidelity and prejudice to name a few). There are as many sequences featuring these characters as there are with Amy and Aaron – and these sequences aren’t particularly funny. They do help us put the Amy puzzle together. We come to somewhat understand why her behaviour is as erratic and destructive as it is, and why she is unable to commit to a relationship, but halt the comedic flow and bring it to a crawl at times. There are many sequences that needed a trim, and contain some real eye-rolling moments that somehow made it through.
This was my personal introduction to Schumer’s comedy and I found it rather patchy. Her vulgarity and self-deprecation certainly taps into a brand of comedy that shakes up the gender-biased comedy landscape, but it takes a long time to warm to her character. The fantastic conclusion seals the deal, but it is touch and go there for a while. The film’s best moments actually belong to others. A heavily spray-tanned Tilda Swinton steals most scenes set within the walls of S’nuff Magazine, John Cena is a riot, and every hangout with Hader and his friend and client Lebron James is hilarious.
Lebron, inarguably one of basketball’s greatest players, gives probably the best performance ever by such an athlete in a film. Ray Allen starred alongside Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s He Got Game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a famous role in Airplane, and Rick Fox was a regular on HBO’s Oz in amongst dozens of acting credits, but none of them are the MVP of their films. Lebron’s comic timing with Hader is legendary, but his jokes are also clever. Having an understanding of the current NBA climate and Lebron’s recent move from the Miami Heat to the Cleveland Cavaliers is not essential, but it does aid appreciation for this facet of the film. Aaron’s surgery on the New York Knicks’ Amare Stoudamire actually mirrors Stoudamire’s own knee surgery and return to the game. I didn’t expect this to be so much about basketball – I take it Schumer is a Knicks fan – but I personally appreciated it.
Apatow has a knack of drawing excellent performances out of his cast. Steve Carrel’s breakthrough performance came in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, while Seth Rogen and Kathryn Heigl have perhaps never been better than in Knocked Up. He even made Adam Sandler look good in Funny People. Here, he draws great work out of the non-professional ball players, but finds the catalyst in the relationship between Schumer and Hader. They work well together, and through the ups and downs you really want them to make it. That’s why I am left positively reflecting on this film. While this pair behave badly, make poor decisions and cause each other unnecessary anxiety, their connection is believable.
Trainwreck is a step down for Apatow, and far from a slam dunk success, but there’s much here to like.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer(s): Amy Schumer (Screenplay)
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Lebron James, Brie Larson, John Cena
Runtime: 122 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: August 6, 2015; New Zealand: August 13, 2015