In 'Trainwreck', A Screwball Comedy Fades To Family-Values Formulaic
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Amy Schumer’s rise has been swift, from standup comedian to star of her own sketch comedy TV series. Now she stars in a movie she also wrote - a romantic comedy called “Trainwreck.” The film is directed by Judd Apatow and features Bill Hader and Tilda Swinton. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: In “Trainwreck,” Amy Schumer plays a magazine journalist named Amy who gets blotto, has sex with anyone and dodges lovers’ pleas for commitment, having learned from her abandoning dad that monogamy is unnatural. The joke is it's the men in the movie who act touchy-feely and watch “Downton Abbey” while Amy squirms and runs away. Her character's sexual confidence is a shock if you know Comedy Central's “Inside Amy Schumer,” in which many sketches turn on Schumer's, or her on-screen alter ego's, insecurity about her hotness. Schumer and her largely female writing staff are politically acute as well as explosively funny. They drive home the grotesqueness of our culture in which women are forced to see themselves through male eyes.
But this, as I said, is “Trainwreck” and not her show. And the template isn’t wholly Schumer’s, though she wrote the script. It's in sync with the director, Judd Apatow, whose movies make hay of debauchery on the way to affirming family values. The good news is Schumer does beautifully in a headlong, screwball role. She hurtles through the movie in short, tight dresses with plunging necklines, buoyant even when blitzed. Her most ardent lover is played with dopey sweetness by wrestling superstar John Cena, who has muscles on top of his muscles. Her soulmate, though, might be Bill Hader as Dr. Aaron Connor, knee surgeon to superstar athletes. Among them, modest, ultrasensitive LeBron James, played by - yahoo - LeBron himself. I love Schumer's chemistry with Hader. She's all wriggly curves while he’s so stiff, he seems all forehead, his voice pure treble with no evident vibrations below the neck. After they spend a night, Amy confides in a friend at work, played by Vanessa Bayer, only to hear from Aaron, with empathetic LeBron at his side.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “TRAINWRECK”)
AMY SCHUMER: (As Amy) I slept at the doctor's place last night.
VANESSA BAYER: (As Nikki) Oh, my God ‘cause you were, like, blackout drunk?
SCHUMER: (As Amy) No, that's the thing. I was dead sober. I had, like, two drinks - three max - four now that I’m tallying. But it was, like, I was sober.
BAYER: (As Nikki) OK, so you barely drank…
SCHUMER: (As Amy) Barely.
BAYER: (As Nikki) …‘Cause you’re on antibiotics or something?
(CELL PHONE RINGING)
SCHUMER: (As Amy) Oh, my God, he’s calling.
BAYER: (As Nikki) Why would he call you? You guys just had sex. It's probably a mistake. It’s a mistake. He’s butt-dialing you.
SCHUMER: (As Amy) Hello.
BILL HADER: (As Aaron) Oh, hey there. It’s Aaron.
SCHUMER: (As Amy) Oh, this is Amy. I think you butt-dialed me.
HADER: (As Aaron) No, no. I dialed you with my fingers.
LEBRON JAMES: (As LeBron) What she say? What she say?
SCHUMER: (As Amy) He called me on purpose.
BAYER: (As Nikki) Hang up. He’s obviously, like, sick or something.
SCHUMER: (As Amy) Yeah, what’s up?
HADER: (As Aaron) I was just calling to say I had a really good time last night. I was wondering if you wanted to hang out again.
SCHUMER: (As Amy) Will you say that again, please?
HADER: (As Aaron) I was wondering if I could see you again?
BAYER: (As Nikki) You know what? I’m going to call the police.
EDELSTEIN: It's too bad that things take a turn for the familiar. Amy has a role usually played by men like Seth Rogen these days - the adult child whose gonzo behavior is appallingly funny, but who must finally learn that true happiness comes by sobering and growing up. When “Trainwreck” gets serious, it leaves the track, losing most of its delightful momentum. I often find myself asking at Judd Apatow movies, does he trust comedy? He's a fan, but he equates it with juvenilia, self-indulgence, anti-family values. The key text is his “Funny People,” where Adam Sandler plays a comedy superstar on the verge of running off with his old married flame, played by Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann. She decides against it when he pays no attention to her adorable daughter, played by one of Apatow’s daughters.
There's a scene just like that in “Trainwreck” at a baby shower when Amy acts bored by a cute child. Later, she responds to the child and is redeemed. If Apatow ever does a remake of “The Bank Dick,” W.C. Field’s drunken Egbert Souse will join AA and become a scoutmaster. But “Trainwreck” chugs along on its comic detours and cameos. As Amy's editor at a snarky magazine, Tilda Swinton is a ghoulish combination of working-class Brit coarseness and regal Brit snobbery. Ezra Miller plays a blandly eager intern with a freaky sexual side. And Schumer has a wonderful rapport with Colin Quinn as her prickly, irresponsible dad. Although a movie within a movie, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei, doesn't have a payoff and a cereal bit with Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick and Marv Albert bombs outright, I like that those bits are there. They give the film a slaphappy vibe. They made me wish that this, Schumer’s first script, had been a surreal grab bag, like Woody Allen's “Bananas,” instead of an extra lewd, formula rom com.
“Trainwreck” incidentally might play in some theaters beside the documentary ”Amy,” featuring another Amy - Winehouse, whose father also ditched his family and left a hole in his daughter's heart that even her astounding talent couldn't fill. The coincidence is uncanny. It’s as if the universe is telling daughters, don't let your dad's presence or absence define you. That’s a family value I can get on board with.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
On Monday’s show…
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MR. HOLMES”)
IAN MCKELLEN: (As Sherlock Holmes) I told Watson if I ever write a story myself it will be to correct the million misconceptions created by his imaginative license.
BIANCULLI: Ian McKellen plays an aged Sherlock Holmes now in retirement with a failing mind in the new film “Mr. Holmes.” On the next FRESH AIR, we talk with McKellen about his film and theater work, playing a wizard and about being closeted in England when it was a crime to admit being gay. I hope you can join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.