MOVIE REVIEW: Trainwreck

(Image: blackfilm.com)

"TRAINWRECK"-- 3 STARS

When most romantic comedies explore the challenge of accepting monogamy and settling down, we're used to some horndog male character crafted with a balanced and acceptable amount of likability and douchebag flaws.  We accept his warts, relish in his shenanigans at the expense of the opposite sex, and root for his brain to figure out what's good for him.  It's a classic archetype built by a male-dominated society and movie industry.  Flip the script.  

Not to get all Blubbering McConaughey from "A Time to Kill" with a shocking parallel twist, but now imagine that horndog character as a woman.  Gasp!  Be honest.  You see the gender inequality, don't you?  It's not the same, is it?  Most sexually-independent and successful single woman aren't granted the "he's just having fun" pass that men get while bedding females and sowing wild oats.  When a woman does that, it's seen as wrong.  People look at those women with a stink eye of "why can't you find a nice man and settle down."  They're labeled losers, floozies, and, dare I say, sluts.  Gasp again!   That's the script being flipped by "Trainwreck," the new romantic comedy from director Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "This is 40").

The amount of love and appreciation you will garner for "Trainwreck" will entirely depend on your taste and tolerance level for its star, Amy Schumer.  The groundbreaking comedienne wrote this screenplay as a fictionalized take on herself and her uproarious "Inside Amy Schumer" sketch comedy persona from television.  If you love her brash comedy and clever subversive feminism, "Trainwreck" is a star-making arrival and a triumph as rare female-centered romantic comedy.  If you're not into the crassness and randomness of her act, the film is going to feel like episodic fits and starts within a flawed romantic comedy that feels like pieces from different and better films.  Hopefully, you side with the former and not the latter.

Amy Schumer, plays Amy Townsend, a young 30-something writer for a Cosmopolitan knock-off magazine in New York City.  Her days are spent navigating the demands of her pushy editor (Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton) on whether to write stories about masturbation or ugly celebrity kids.  Her nights bring out the party girl hooking up with a buffet of guys, keeping in place her cardinal rule of never staying the night.  She keeps a steady relationship with a hunky-yet-selfish personal trainer (WWE wrestler John Cena, hilariously giving you the best on-screen orgasm since "When Harry Met Sally...") as a fallback.  Amy does just enough to have her fun and never be alone, but keeps her distance and emotions in check.

Her free spirit ways come from her father's (former "Saturday Night Live" vet Colin Quinn) influence of preaching how, as the red-band trailer so eloquently put it, monogamy isn't realistic.  Amy took those words to heart more than her little sister Kim (Brie Larson), who's nice, normal, and married.  That mentality gets challenged when Amy is assigned by her magazine to interview Dr. Aaron Conners, a top-notch sports surgeon with a bevvy of big name clients like NBA superstar LeBron James (playing a dorky version of himself).  Through Amy's clueless and clumsy interview process as a girl who knows or cares nothing about sports, the two share a night out that ends in fireworks.  Amy breaks her overnight rule and soon finds herself liking Aaron and the feeling is mutual.  

Can the free-spirit independent girl make a relationship work with a genuinely nice guy?  Remember, that's normally a guy's problem in movies and not one for the ladies.  This is fertile comedic ground for Apatow and Schumer that is rarely traveled.  Navigating the problematic dating and relationship landscape with Schumer at the helm, speaking her mind and twisting stereotypes, is where "Trainwreck" works its best magic.  The main couple's role reversal is smartly played for honesty and great laughs.  Bill Hader, playing it straight with no impressions or characters, has outstanding chemistry with Schumer.  He is essentially in "The Girl" role as the prize that has to be won by the end of the movie.  That  aspect works and sells "Trainwreck" as a very solid date film for a summer movie season devoid and starving for exactly that kind of he-said/she-said fix.

There is, however, an unmistakable oil-and-water quality about "Trainwreck" that keeps it from being an instant classic.  The coolness of the endless celebrity cameos wears thin and feels like a two-hour humblebrag and circle jerk by the end from director Judd Apatow.  His motis operandi has always been to mix R-rated comedy with moments of softness and sweetness.  Some of that tone shrewdly works and some of it is too saccharin compared to the acid of comedy on the other side.  The pendulum swings between the naughty devil of inappropriate comedy on one shoulder and the nice angel of reason and romance on the other are very wide and the momentum shifts between the two are not always smooth.  Simply put, satire and heart don't always mix well together.  Schumer's brand of satire is hilariously caustic.  Softening that kind of takes away what makes her so bold and great.  Because Apatow's romantic comedy tendencies win out, "Trainwreck" can feel as much like a cry for help from Amy Schumer and what she stands for as much as it is meant to be a dominating statement of strength and independence.  Once again, it all rests on your love level of Schumer.

LESSON #1: BEST FRIENDS IN ROMANTIC COMEDIES GIVE MORE TERRIBLE ADVICE THAN GOOD ADVICE-- We see this all the time.  The classic "unhelpful best friend" cliches in romantic comedies either deliver the obvious for the sake of narrative exposition or offer conveniently convincing bad advice that makes them look funny as performers while setting up cute conflict moments of screw-up for our main characters.  LeBron James and "Saturday Night Live" regular Vanessa Bayer fill those cliches in "Trainwreck" to hilarity, but do get to be filtered a little differently by the switched dominance of the relationships roles between Amy and Aaron.  

LESSON #2: SPOONING IS THE MOST UNCOMFORTABLE SHARED SLEEPING POSITION EVER-- Sorry, romantics, but Amy Townsend is dead right.  The tickling and annoying hair, the uncomfortable and accumulating sweat, the awkward positioning, the restrictive lack of movement, the crushed extremities, the post-coital awkwardness, the wasted bed space, sharing sheets, and getting breathed or snored on all night stinks.  You stay on your side of the bed.  I'll stay on mine.  Everyone is happy and comfy.

LESSON #3: DON'T PLAY "SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET" OR ANY OTHER FILTHY GAME WITH AMY SCHUMER OR A CHARACTER PLAYED BY AMY SCHUMER-- That woman's answers will always trump your answers.  You will not be the coolest or edgiest one of the group.  She will.  Keep her away from your bosses, parents, and nice friends.  Don't play "Never Have I Ever" either.  Scratch off "Truth or Dare" or strip poker.  Hell, don't even play her in Rock-Paper-Scissors with her without being ready.  It will get dark and wrong in a hurry.  She will ruin you.

LESSON #4: EVEN THE MOST SATIRICAL PEOPLE HAVE HEARTS-- Don't let the cynicism fool you.  Underneath that sarcastic front, they have a conscience and a heart.  There is a desire for companionship, positive morals, and acceptance.  People like that use their humor to disarm you and belong.  They also use humor to deflect their true feelings.  They act like they don't give a crap, but they do.  Let them in.  They are worth having around.  They are a good voice of reality to have around.  Meet them halfway and accept who they are and you will get a loyal friend, companion, and defender in return.

LESSON #5: CHANGING YOUR WAYS FOR SOMEONE YOU CARE ABOUT AND LOVE-- As aforementioned, the romantic comedy softness of Judd Apatow wins in "Trainwreck" and we do get a touching relationship journey surrounded by all the shock comedy.  One big aspect of love is doing all of the things, sappy and all, that you wouldn't normally do with or for someone else unless you cared about them.  This is especially true when that happens to one of those people from Lesson #4.  That's the growth between two people and compromising as a couple.  You change and they change for the better.  You see each other for your hearts and what you mean to each other.  Love isn't always losing yourself.  It's adapting and adding a better half to the mix.

WEBSITE LOGOS DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED