movie review

Trainwreck Is a Winner, Until It Turns Into a Judd Apatow Movie

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in Trainwreck. Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

If you’re an Amy Schumer lover (and if you’re not, you might as well stop reading because never our twain shall meet), you’ll be ecstatic to see her strut her stuff on the big screen in the mostly (about four-fifths) delightful sex comedy Trainwreck — and maybe a tad disappointed when the playbook turns out not to be entirely hers.

Schumer has cast herself as Amy, a magazine journalist who routinely gets blotto, has sex with rafts of men, and dodges her lovers’ pleas for commitment — her worldview having been shaped by a dad (Colin Quinn) who, shortly before decamping, counseled her and her younger sister against “unrealistic” monogamy. Her character’s confident sexuality might surprise fans of her TV show, Inside Amy Schumer, in which the sketches often bloom from Schumer’s (or her onscreen alter ego’s) doubts about her hotness — doubts that drive home the grotesqueness of a culture that forces women to see themselves through the eyes of men. Nothing in Trainwreck is as boundary-bursting, but it’s fun to see Schumer when she’s not weighed down by body shame. She wriggles through the movie in short, tight dresses with plunging necklines, buoyant even when blitzed. She’s the hot girl here; she doesn’t just get dweebs. Her most ardent lover — played with wonderful dopey sweetness by the wrestling superstar John Cena — has muscles on top of muscles and is cut like the Grand Canyon. But Amy’s giddiness in the sack yields quickly to jitters. Approximately one second after orgasm, her eyes seek out an exit. She’s edgy about being breathed on.

The man who might save Amy from the unbearable tightness of being is the subject of her next magazine profile: Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), knee surgeon for superstar athletes, a Doctor Without Borders, and a study in non-virility. Hader plays the role as a human forehead. His voice is all treble, with no evident vibrations below the neck. At first, he and Schumer have one of those magical non-rapport rapports that are the province of gifted improv comedians: His lean frame seems to spring back from her soft curves. Slowly, though, Amy teases Aaron to the surface while Aaron forces Amy to slow down. One of the movie’s running gags is that the ultrawhite Aaron pals around with an exceedingly modest LeBron James (LeBron James), who warns Amy not to break the doctor’s fragile heart. Amy is suitably weirded out, and so the movie tiptoes into the requisite falling-in-love montage.

So far, so fun. It’s too bad Schumer is playing a familiar character, though one that’s usually taken by men: the adult child whose gonzo behavior is appallingly funny at first, but who must learn that true happiness comes only by sobering up and embracing family values. In other words, it’s that damn Judd Apatow template.

Apatow both directed Trainwreck and shepherded it to the screen, and he trusts Schumer’s voice: He lets the scenes breathe and the actors find their rhythms. The problem is his own rhythms: nimble out of the gate with a sudden drooping down the stretch. Things got so heavy that I wondered, Does Apatow trust comedy? He’s certainly a fan: He has a new book of interviews with comics, his childhood heroes. But I have a feeling that, like Woody Allen (although far more bourgeois), he equates it with juvenilia and self-indulgence, as well as That Which Is Anti-Family. And family is what Apatow is peddling. Even more telling than This Is 40 — his big-screen home movie featuring his wife (Leslie Mann) and daughters — was Funny People, in which Adam Sandler’s Adam Sandler–like comic superstar proved that he was unworthy of recapturing his old flame (Mann again) when he shrugged off an adorable video of her adorable daughter (an Apatow child again). There’s a variation of that scene in Trainwreck, in which Amy resents having to listen to a little kid and we realize that she must change her life. If Apatow ever directs a remake of The Bank Dick, Egbert Sousé will join AA and become a scoutmaster.

One “serious” scene works: a eulogy Amy delivers that has a real dramatic build — it feels authentic. Brie Larson doesn’t hit a banal note as Amy’s sister, who took the opposite message from their father’s abandonment and attached herself to an amiable zhlub (Mike Birbiglia). Otherwise, Trainwreck lives by its curlicues and cameos, which are like whiffs of nitrous oxide. As the editor of the snark-zine S’nuff (sample story: “Ugliest Celebrity Kids Under 6”), Tilda Swinton is a ghoulish combination of working-class Brit coarseness and regal Brit snobbery — devastatingly credible. The unpeggable Ezra Miller plays S’nuff’s intern, eerily stripped of defining traits until his hilarious send-off. Although a couple of scenes at an old folks’ home don’t have a satisfying shape, Quinn’s stinging delivery keeps you smiling, and it’s a treat to see Norman Lloyd, now in his 101st year, as a fellow resident.

A movie-within-a-movie — an apparently endless black-and-white romance starring Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, and many dogs — doesn’t have a payoff, and a surreal bit with Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick, and Marv Albert bombs outright. But those bits give the film a sloppy, slaphappy vibe. They made me wish that Schumer’s first script had been more of a surreal grab bag, like Bananas, instead of an ­extra-lewd formula rom-com, and that she’d worked in more of the satire that makes her and her largely female writing staff so treasurable.

Trainwreck, incidentally, is going to be playing side by side with Amy, the story of another Amy — Winehouse — whose father also ditched his family and left a hole in his daughter’s heart (and self-esteem) that even the most swelling, soulful musical talent of the last quarter-century couldn’t fill. The coincidence is uncanny. It’s as if the universe were telling daughters, “Don’t let your dad’s presence or absence define you,” and fathers, “You hold something precious and fragile in your hand. Don’t be a dick.”

*This article appears in the July 13, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

Movie Review: Trainwreck