Wednesday, August 5, 2015

“Trainwreck”: Review


Regardless of its desire to stretch the boundaries of the genre, or to stay safely within them, no romantic comedy works unless the chemistry between the central pairing is palpable. Trainwreck, the latest directorial effort from the current mastermind of American cinematic comedy, Judd Apatow, passes this litmus test with ease. The film benefits from it’s uniquely female-centric perspective (a nice change of pace for the usually male-centric Apatow), and the female at the center here is Amy Schumer (serving here as both star and screenwriter whilst playing a character who shares her name). Schumer’s prickly brand of comedy makes an unconventional match with what is otherwise a fairly traditional rom-com, but it’s a match that helps to elevate Trainwreck. Though she’s already a huge success on TV, this is Schumer’s first major film role (let alone star vehicle), and she carries the film with an effortlessness in balancing both the silly and sincere moments.

As much as Schumer carries the film, it wouldn’t matter if she wasn’t well-matched romantically. Fortunately, Bill Hader (an equally bright comic talent whose often relegated to the sidelines in these types of films) is given the chance here to shine in his first romantic lead, owning the role of Aaron with a performance of great subtlety. It’s no small task for an actor to balance playing an affable guy while still making him interesting, but, like Schumer, Hader performance feels effortless in pulling off that balance. The genius of Schumer and Hader as a romantic pairing is that you buy them as a real couple with real emotional stakes, in spite of the genre trappings, precisely because neither of them are conventional romantic leads. 

In Trainwreck, Schumer and Hader are doing an inversion of the conventional rom-com dynamic in that she’s the one who’s phobic of commitment, while he takes commitment more seriously. That the film in its conclusion advocates for commitment and monogamous relationships has been seen by some as a passing of judgement on Amy’s initial lifestyle. I personally didn’t see it that way, as Schumer and Apatow do a good enough job of establishing that without her being fully aware of it, this lifestyle is making Amy into a lonely, unfulfilled person. 

As is often the case with an Apatow film, the supporting cast of Trainwreck is a smorgasbord of stunt casting, and most the choices work improbably well. Even if you know going in that the usually pale Tilda Swinton is in this movie, you’ll be hard pressed to recognize her under a thick layer of spray tan as Amy’s icy boss (she shares a scene early on with her We Need to Talk About Kevin co-star Ezra Miller, and I was floored upon realizing that these were the same two actors from that film). Apatow also gets not one, but two terrific comic performances from athletes in the form of wrestler John Cena (as Amy’s muscle head ex-boyfriend) and, especially, LeBron James (here playing himself an unlikely iteration of the best friend archetype opposite Hader’s character). 

One of the most disarming and unexpectedly moving performances in the film comes from comedian Colin Quinn as Amy’s abrasive, sickly father Gordon. Quinn is hilarious in conveying how unabashedly awful this man is (the film begins with him defending his own polygamous nature to his young daughters through a doll analogy), but underneath this abrasive exterior, Quinn manages to find the soul in this lonely man in a performance that’s ultimately very moving. The always wonderful Brie Larson (Short Term 12) also does solid work as Schumer’s younger sister. Though not the central framework of the film, the complicated dynamic of Amy’s family is where some of the best, most honest material in Trainwreck comes from. 

What holds Trainwreck back over are the many usual pitfalls of any Judd Apatow directed joint. These tendencies (scenes going on for too long, scenes that don’t add anything to the story, ect.) are so well established at this point that it feels cliche to even go over them, but nonetheless they are ever present in Trainwreck. Apatow is as capable as any modern comedic director of creating inspired moments, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the same impulses that lead to these inspired moments are the same ones that lead also to some of more inept moments in his films (an awkward cameo scene featuring Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick and Marv Albert late in the film stick out in this regard). While the inspired moments continue to make up the difference, it’s a shame that these problems seem to be inherent, as they are the only thing holding these films back from being transcendent comedies as opposed to just really good ones. That being said, I will continue to welcome any really good comedy like Trainwreck (particularly one from a major studio) with an open embrace.

Grade: B+

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