Hollywood, CA…“Don’t judge me, F@#$%ers,” declares Amy Schumer via voiceover narration near the beginning of Trainwreck, after adding yet another one-night stand to her countless others.
Not only does this rather blunt statement set the tone for the rest of the film, but it also asks moviegoers not to judge Ms. Schumer too harshly during her first foray onto the big screen. Schumer’s been a well-known standup comedian for several years now, and her sketch show, the deliberately innuendo-sounding Inside Amy Schumer, has been a hit on Comedy Central since 2013. The question is this: can Schumer’s frank and often harsh type of humor translate into a feature length romantic comedy?
The answer is yes…for the most part. Trainwreck, which Schumer wrote and partially based on her own life, succeeds mainly due to the strength of its cast and its direction under Judd Apatow, best know for his comedies such as Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Bridesmaids. While the main plot doesn’t exactly break free of romantic comedy conventions, the cast has brilliant chemistry, and the scenes and characters are fresh enough that you can forget the fact that Trainwreck is basically treading the same ground—a sports based quirky love story—as the 2005 Drew Barrymore film Fever Pitch. It also helps that Trainwreck is tremendously funny and even sweet at times.
To the plot, then: having been instilled with the attitude that “monogamy is unrealistic” by her father (Colin Quinn) as a young girl, Amy (here called Amy Townsend) has grown up into a human disaster living in New York. The film’s title, as one can guess, refers to her: she sleeps around, drinks heavily, and mocks her sister (played by Brie Larson) for getting married and settling down. “Never let them sleep over,” she says of her male conquests. But when she’s assigned a new article by her boss (Tilda Swinton, under layers of makeup and in full alpha bitch mode) at S’nuff, a men’s gossip magazine, she falls hard for Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a squeaky-clean sports doctor.
No prizes for guessing how things turn out. Amy’s relationship goes through the expected twists and turns, but in a refreshing change for most romantic comedies, this time it’s the woman who must overcome her massive series of personal problems and take the lead in the relationship. In fact, Hader’s character is such a perfect white knight that viewers might almost expect him to mess up or break Amy’s heart—but he doesn’t.
Bill Hader is actually one of the core elements that make the film work. The former SNL cast member is known for playing crazy and quirky characters, but here that’s Amy’s job, and so Hader takes on the role of straight man to Amy’s zany antics. It’s surprising how well Hader does with dry wit and heart, and though a few scenes are written to let him act out, he really grounds the film and acts as the emotional center. Part of the drama is also owed to Colin Quinn, who—while still funny—is playing a more serious role as Amy’s father. While his role isn’t as big as Hader, he does a fine job.
The rest of the cast rounds out the comedy bits. The unexpected addition turns out to be NBA superstar LeBron James, playing an exaggerated version of himself as a big brother type to Dr. Conners. While James might be relegated to a cameo in any other film, Trainwreck utilizes him in several scenes, and his performance is consistently funny; he takes to comedy surprisingly well. Several other appearances and minor roles are also hilarious, including standup comic Kyle Dunnigan and SNL alum Tim Meadows. Additionally, there are quite a few cameos from other comics and sports figures, including Dave Attell and Vanessa Bayer (a current SNL staple). One highlight is wrestler John Cena as Amy’s sometimes boyfriend towards the beginning of the film; Cena plays the role brilliantly and makes the earlier scenes some of the best. All of these characters, though, make each scene funny, and while it’s slightly disappointing that the plot doesn’t subvert romantic comedy conventions in a bigger way, the laughs never stop.
Make no mistake though: this is Amy’s show, and she puts her comedic sensibilities on full display here. Her dialogue is funny, coarse, and crude. It’s also highly believable and realistic, and it helps that Schumer does physical comedy well. She’s not afraid to offend, and that attitude translates to a very watchable film. In some ways, the film feels like a longer and more in-depth version of one of her sketches…and that’s not a bad thing at all. The chemistry between her and Bill Hader, so reminiscent of Apatow’s other films (alongside an eclectic soundtrack), provides much of the humor; the two play off each other well.
Ultimately, Trainwreck won’t change the world or revolutionize filmmaking. But it is a really funny, coarse, and raunchy comedy, and what more can viewers ask for? For Schumer’s first film, it succeeds with flying colors; the cameos alone are worth the price of admission. Despite its name, the film isn’t a wreck at all, but while it sticks to romantic comedy tropes, it’s reliably funny enough that you won’t want to stop watching.
Final Score: 9/10