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'Trainwreck' is a rom-com that doesn't punish the female sex drive

Amy Schumer's first big movie subverts —and embraces —some of a genre's sometimes questionable tropes, with John Cena sex jokes.

‘Trainwreck’
Director:
Judd Apatow
Stars: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Trainwreck” is the story of a woman who tries settling down after eons playing the field. It is not the story of a slattern who tries settling down because she needs to correct her wicked, wicked ways. Rom-coms teem with commitment-phobes who need upbraiding, and that’s quadruply shameful if the protagonist is a she. For her splashy movie vehicle debut, Amy Schumer quietly — well, with lots of hard-R sex jokes, some of them deployed by John Cena — dismantles if not the entirety of the rom-com genre then some of its more irksome parts. It knows there’s a distinction between the reactionary, retrograde submission to patriarchal norms it could be and the progressive film sincerely (but hilariously) exploring anxieties that it is.

First and foremost is the notion that women should be punished for acting on their sex drive. Schumer plays Amy, who is honestly only half a trainwreck: She boozes and gets high more than she perhaps should, but she also holds down a steady, impressive job — all the more impressive, if not fantastical, because it’s a job writing long form articles for a magazine in the year 2015. (That she labors for a glossy and not a site is out-of-touch as well as clumsy considering the jokes about questionable articles, like “Is He Gay or Just Boring?”, appear directed at the likes of Vice and Buzzfeed.) She also sleeps around a lot, though this is generally OK too, and only appears to really upset one particularly sensitive regular lover (played by John Cena). A key scene finds Amy getting into a cab with a date. He tells the driver to make two stops. She casually corrects him: it will just be one. The movie doesn’t treat her like a skank; she’s rocked a bold, smooth move, as cool and confident as anything done by Bogart or Cary Grant.

Amy inevitably meets a nice guy with considerably less experience. He’s Bill Hader’s Aaron, and he really likes her and urges her to slip into a full-on monogamous relationship — a prospect Amy greets with both enthusiasm and deep, neurotic hesitation. Despite or because of their differences, she cares deeply for Aaron and finds herself doing things she never thought she’d do, like spending time with someone that doesn’t just include hitting the sack (though that too). At the same time she’s reluctant to part with the fun of what has long been her lifestyle: she genuinely enjoys drinking, toking, banging. Schumer’s script seems to agree she should be with Aaron, or at least that she should do these activities with a touch more moderation. What it doesn’t do is say she should be with Aaron because he will cure her of her trainwreckiness. It explores the unease of entering into any serious relationship, especially when doing that means parting with things one enjoys doing.

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“Trainwreck” isn’t anywhere close to perfect, and in some ways it suffers from first-script syndrome. Schumer can’t always use the comedy to explore its central, progressive idea, and a sad subplot about her ailing, racist father (Colin Quinn) sometimes feels shoehorned-in. But like most films by Judd Apatow — who directed with a touch more vigor than he usually does — it mostly makes its shagginess part of the appeal. (Worth noting is, unlike most Apatows, it often looks good, thanks to ace d.p. Jody Lee Lipes, of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and others.) Often times it’s just a collection of jokes — very, very funny jokes, and ones, it’s important to note, that don’t always revolve around the gently sarcastic Schumer. She’s a very generous comedian, regularly allowing her first big movie to be highjacked by others, be they Brie Larson as her wry sister, Tilda Swinton, in full-on Tilda glory as Amy’s tyrannical boss, or its two athlete supporting players.

The other is a very game LeBron James, who plays Aaron’s obligatory rom-com best friend, who, as it happens, is actually in fact LeBron James. There’s even a twist on the usual scene where bros play basketball while talking relationships, only one of the ones playing basketball is literally LeBron James.Sometimes, as in that scene, “Trainwreck” is simply content to lightly play off genre conventions, or even embrace them. The final third goes a little too far into simply following tradition, with the usual break-up over petty reasons followed by an ending that would put a smile on Richard Curtis. But you can also sense Schumer enjoying being in her own rom-com, of getting the chance to hit all the marks even as she twists it to her own feminist/profane means. What it never does is acknowledge that its rom-com star is not a rail-thin stick figure, because that’s not a notion even worth bringing up.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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