Every few years, an actor appears in a film that is so finely tuned to their strengths that instantly audiences know they’re witnessing a star. And so it is with Trainwreck, which announces Amy Schumer like it’s Happy Hour on Friday before a three-day weekend. But what’s really impressive is that Trainwreck does this all in the opening sequence, which is coming off the other side of that 72-hour bender with Schumer lying hungover and disheveled in a special kind of Hell: Staten Island.
Clearly drawing from a place of personal insight, Schumer and director Judd Apatow have delivered the R-rated comedy of the summer that has near universal appeal with its focus on a love story for adults who don’t have a problem with four-letter words. It’s also in that same bluntness, and especially with its screenplay by Schumer, that Apatow unleashes his real secret weapon for perhaps the filthiest romantic comedy in memory: he's made a raunchy comedy that's also incredibly endearing.
Unafraid of blurring fictional lines, Schumer’s character is named Amy, and she’s a 30-something New York writer every bit as lecherous as men are usually depicted in this genre’s most thoughtless entries. However, there is clear thought behind Amy’s bedtime appetites, which is explained early in a flashback to her father (Colin Quinn) giving his young daughters a lesson in monogamy: don’t do it.
While that tutorial did not stick for Amy’s younger sister Kim (Brie Larson), who is already married and in the suburbs with a stepson, Amy is a chip off the old block. And the best thing about this set-up is that for Amy, it never truly changes. While she certainly meets a love interest in Aaron (Bill Hader), who she is conscripted to reluctantly interview for the Men’s Magazine she works at, Trainwreck is never about a man clearing the debris ahead for a confused woman. Rather, the appeal is about both of them trying to ram this locomotive through their obstacles with as much organized chaos and sex jokes as possible. And the great news is that they succeed with rousing success.
The reason for Trainwreck’s appeal is as much about what's happening off-screen as on it. By coupling with Apatow for this project, Schumer as a screenwriter brings out the best traits of her director. Already an Internet sensation thanks to the viral hits from her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer, the writer/actress maintains her abrasive tone by intentionally stumbling and groping her way through every topic in the most insightful, but unapologetically crass, manner imaginable. Obviously interested in playing and reversing gender tropes, she very much is doing the same thing with the well-worn rom-com formula here.
However, such precise bedlam has also been what’s missing from Apatow’s recent sentimental and downbeat directorial efforts. The filmmaker has come a long way from his more purely gross out successes in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. But as he’s become more aware of those earlier efforts’ often problematic depictions of women (not to mention the Apatow-produced Superbad), his more nuanced work about growing up has led to increasingly scattershot experiences like Funny People and This is 40.
In contrast, Schumer’s brand of madness is a welcome dose of hilarity for the filmmaker; he doubtlessly maintains his sincere interest in character-rooted comedy with Trainwreck—which runs nearly two hours in length—but for once never loses sights of the laughs. Another way to put this is that Schumer’s script is just as candid as This is 40, but Trainwreck also never stops being funny. In fact, it is one of the few examples where the movie gets more hilarious as it chugs along into the third act, ending with a finale every bit as demented as when Amy sits down early with her sister’s housewife neighbors to trade embarrassing secrets…you’ll never guess who wins that contest.
The best laughs of Trainwreck come in the film’s ability to crudely and sometimes brilliantly invert gender stereotypes. Schumer plays with the traditional coding of the sexes when her character is terrified of commitment while Hader’s affable Aaron is the one who wants her to spend the whole night and desires to see her again the morning after. Yet, it’s when this idea is expanded upon that the film becomes something special. For example, Aaron is also a doctor for professional athletes. So, his best friend is of course LeBron James. But the punch-line isn’t that LeBron is making a cameo. Rather, he’s a legitimate supporting character who spends his time watching Downton Abbey with Aaron, giving relationship advice to both Aaron and Amy, and finally takes time off his busy schedule to brunch with his BFF.
Additionally, Hader being appropriated the gender-specific role of the “female” half of a romantic comedy never robs him of his sense of humor or the fact that he is actually allowed to also deliver laughs when Schumer constructs narrative treatises on men and women’s relationships. Unlike women in earlier man-child centric Apatow films, Aaron as the “love interest” is genuinely interesting.
Also complimented by a talented supporting cast that all get at least a few moments to shine, including Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Bayer, and a very jolly John Cena as Amy’s bi-curious boy toy, Schumer is propelled into superstardom with the perfect kind of seasonal double shot. Trainwreck is going to go to your head and leave you dizzy with so many laughs that a second viewing is almost mandatory to hear the jokes that were missed. For those looking for the comedy of the summer, it’s time to drink up.
This review was originally published on July 7, 2015.
If you want to go Beyond the Review, film critic David Crow discusses why it's the comedy of the summer: