A film review by Craig J. Koban July 23, 2015


2015, R, 125 mins.


Amy Schumer as Amy  /  Bill Hader as Aaron  /  Brie Larson as Kim  /  Tilda Swinton as Dianna  /  Ezra Miller as Donald  /  John Cena as Steven  /  LeBron James as LeBron James  /  Vanessa Bayer as Nikki  /  Method Man as Temembe  /  Jon Glaser as Schultz  /  Colin Quinn as Gordon  /  Dave Attell as Noam  /  Randall Park as Bryson

Directed by Judd Apatow  /  Written by Amy Schumer

TRAINWRECK may be Judd Apatow’s fifth film as a director, but make mo mistake about it...this is Amy Schumer’s film through and through. 

I knew very little about her before walking into TRAINWRECK, a new romcom the she both wrote and stars in (her feature film acting debut).  Schumer has been lauded in stand-up comedian circles for her nail-bitingly sarcastic and self-deprecating material, often directed at her own awkward and problematic social and sex life.  She has stated in interviews that TRAINWRECK is somewhat autobiographical, which I sincerely hope is not true, seeing as it takes great pains to show the thorny and oftentimes difficult to watch sexcapades of a frequently dislikeable human being.  

Yet, TRAINWRECK displays Schumer as both a naturally talented writer and actress, the latter trait which surprised me the most.  Somehow, she manages to make her toxically unsympathetic character feel relatable, vulnerable, and strangely congenial.  Her script has a snarky tenacity when it comes to radically subverting many stale and overused romcom clichés and conventions, but it’s also guilty of adhering to many of them as well.  Even when the sometimes pedestrian screenplay – and Apatow’s characteristic self-indulgent penchant for bloated running times – tries to derail TRAINWRECK, we nevertheless gravitate towards Schumer’s impeccably layered performance and her knack for observational comedy. 

TRAINWRECK finds a manner of flipping many romcom stereotypes in mostly novel and successful ways.  There have been many genre films like it where the male is the throw-caution-to-the-wind and unhealthily self-destructive hedonist that considers the women he beds as nocturnal trophies.  TRAINWRECK has fun with gender swapping, having its main female protagonist a commitment and relationship-hating cretin.  Schumer plays this particular gal with an unavoidable aptitude for engaging in irresponsible behavior.  She sleeps with many men – actually, just about any man, for that matter – that will allow her the nightly pleasure of sex without any type of future obligations after the fact.  That’s the way she likes it, which may have something to do with the wisdom that her curmudgeonly father (played by shockingly good Colin Quinn) gave her when she was just a girl (in the film’s opening flashback, during which time he tells Amy that monogamy is essentially a sham…but he mostly does this to cover his own frequently marital infidelity).  



Flashforward twenty-plus years and Amy certainly has adhered to her dad’s wishes, even though her sister (Brie Larson) has moved on, married, and had a child.  Amy, outwardly at least, is headstrong, independent minded, and happy, but inwardly she’s a miserable mess.  Hell, even her job as a writer at a lurid men’s magazine offers her no solace.  One day her sleazy editor (played by an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, harnessing a THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA/Merryl Streep level of simmering hostility) assigns Amy a job of interviewing a young hotshot sports surgeon that has treated some of the most recognized and adored athletes around.  Amy has next to zero knowledge of sports, but begrudgingly acquiesces to her boss’ demands.  When she meets Aaron (Bill Hader), it’s not exactly an obligatory meet-cute (if anything, he somewhat resents her lack of understanding of the sporting world), but the more time she spends with him the more she…well…kind of likes him, feelings that he eventually reciprocates as well.  However, the deeper that Aaron and Amy dive into relationship waters (uncharted for Amy) the more she begins to recoil and question whether or not Aaron should actually be with her. 

Romcoms, even unsuccessful ones on a scripting level, live and breath based on the affability of the two lead stars, and TRAINWRECK has a stellar pair in Schumer and Hader.  Both are not prototypically and limitlessly attractive stars that dominate these kinds of films.  They’re not unattractive either, but they feel more like authentically rendered everyday people.  Hader himself is a sneaky actor in the sense that he can play broad, low brow comedy with the best of them, but then also displays a surprising amount of dramatic range in evoking Aaron as a secure, but vulnerable and sensitive person.  He’s a really good foil to Schumer, who gives a performance of remarkable sincerity and touching depths that one would not typically find from a stand-up comedian turned first time film actress.  A lesser actress would have given Amy an unsettling and deeply neurotic vibe that could have been borderline unwatchable, but Schumer is wiser to relay a sour and profane woman that still is capable of having genuine feelings, even though the outlet that she uses to express them is highly inappropriate at times. 

Hader and Schumer are surrounded by an endearing supporting cast as well, especially from some unexpected sources, like LeBron James playing a very amusing Downton Abbey loving version of himself that’s a buddy to Aaron (despite his vast wealth, James also really hates to pick up a check at any restaurant).  John Cena also appears in a brief, but hysterical turn as a bulked out bodybuilder that's so deeply sensitive he needs to be coached by Amy (during one riotous sequence) as to how to properly talk “dirty” to her during sex.  Brie Larson and Colin Quinn fill out the cast nicely as Amy’s sister and father respectfully, the latter showing poise that I’ve not really seen before.  Ultimately, though, TRAINWRECK works largely because of the tandem of Schumer and Hader, both of whom rise well above romcom formulas in making their characters have a real flesh and blood weight to them. 

Where TRAINWRECK falters is in its running time, a far too frequent problem that has dogged many of Apatow’s previous films.  At over two hours, the film contains far too many scenes of improvisational comedy that, frankly, Apatow appears to have no idea when to end.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t blend heartfelt sentiment and raunch as well as he did with his biggest hits in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP, but here Apatow lets timing and flow get the better of him.  That, and TRAINWRECK is not as aggressively radical in terms of re-defining the romcom playbook as many have led on.  Even though Schumer’s script is sly and subversive at times, it still wallows in many predictable genre beats that holds the film back at times.  The story itself loses steam and momentum after the 90-minute mark and builds towards a feel-good finale that sort of rings falsely as far as one character’s motivation is concerned.  During most of TRAINWRECK the characters act like real people, but during its closing moments they act like stock movie characters at the mercy of storytelling contrivances. 

Despite it endurance testing running time, some tonal inconsistencies, and a plot that juicily mocks genre formulas while regrettably and slavishly adhering to them, TRAINWRECK still emerges as a crowd pleasing original, thanks in large part to the presence of Schumer, who gives one of the more lived-in and memorable introductory film performances that I’ve seen recently.  The film is also unafraid of its hard-R rating (which it earns) and is equally unafraid to make its main character a deeply flawed and troubled human being.  TRAINWRECK reaches out for greatness and nearly achieves it.  It's by no means a qualitative trainwreck.  

That much is certain. 

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