Trainwreck, the much-anticipated collaboration between director Judd Apatow and writer/star Amy Schumer, is a new twist on an old scam. It’s a bait-and-switch in which the viewer is promised one kind of film in the marketing blitz and then finds an inferior product in the theater.
Schumer plays a version of her own comic persona, simply named Amy, who works as a magazine writer in New York City. The first several scenes establish her as a serial bed-hopper staunchly in favor of casual hookups. Her parents’ disastrous marriage has convinced her that monogamy isn’t just undesirable; it doesn’t actually exist. Everyone sleeps around, even if they pretend that they don’t.
Amy’s alpha boy-toy is a musclehead gym rat played by pro wrestler John Cena, who has fun hinting at the homoerotic appeal of bodybuilding. But Amy’s promiscuity drives him off, and she finds herself attracted to sports surgeon Aaron (Bill Hader), her subject for a magazine piece assigned by ruthless editor Dianne (Tilda Swinton, funny and almost unrecognizable). Aaron is a nice guy, relatively grounded and stable, with a gorgeous Manhattan apartment and a client list including LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire.
The dramatic tension, such as it is, concerns whether Amy will get her act together in time to rescue her relationship with Aaron. It’s a story chassis as old as the Ford Model T. The laughs that are supposed to fill it out are what we’re paying for, ostensibly. The fusion of Schumer’s post-post-feminist comedy and Apatow’s brutally frank raunchiness is a match made in some filthy corner of heaven, right?
Unfortunately, not so much. Schumer’s character likes sex, fears commitment, drinks a lot of booze and smokes a lot of pot. That’s fine, but it’s not innovative or transgressive. It’s not even that interesting—I’ve known lots of people like this, men and women, all my life. More to the point, I’ve also seen characters like this on screen all my life. The manufactured buzz around Trainwreck—that Schumer’s character represents a lacerating frontal attack on social mores and gender politics—is misdirection.
The truth is that Trainwreck, in terms of comedy filmmaking, is virtually indistinguishable from Apatow’s last directorial effort, the similarly overlong midlife-crisis satire This Is 40. For that matter, Trainwreck isn’t too far from Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin, either. Apatow’s movies are hard-coded and consistent: People grow up reluctantly, and filthier always equals funnier. Trainwreck is nothing new.
It’s also undeniable that the movie just isn’t very well done, in a Filmmaking 101 kind of way. Schumer’s screenplay has funny jokes and lines, but the structure is a mess, and Apatow’s direction is typically sloppy. Scenes go on for way too long and the pacing is slower than the comedy requires. One sequence in particular, with Hader and James, is a 30-second joke inexplicably stretched into a seven-minute scene. This movie needed trimming and shaping. There’s a reason for the post-production editing process, but Apatow seems to have forgotten it.
The upside is that, because Schumer wrote the script, there are several very funny scenes that play to her strengths as a comedian, which are regularly on display in her terrific Comedy Central sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer. These superior one-off gags often play out like sketch comedy bits. The sex jokes are particularly good in that funny-because-it’s-true way that Schumer has perfected.
The dialogue has nice, natural rhythms, and a boatload of Schumer’s standup comedy pals drop by to throw in lines, including Colin Quinn, Dave Attell, Jon Glaser, Mike Birbiglia and—hey, is that Tim Meadows? The stunt casting is less successful. Among the celebrities and sports figures on parade, beyond James and Stoudemire, are Matthew Broderick, Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, Chris Evert and Marv Albert. Marv Albert?
I wanted to like Trainwreck a whole lot more than I did, but the experience is just kind of a bummer. Here’s another option: Track down the fabulous indie comedy Obvious Child, starring standup comic Jenny Slate, which travels over very similar sex-drugs-and-comedy terrain—but with better screenwriting, acting, casting and music.