Film review of Trainwreck

This review of “Trainwreck” appeared in The Australian Jewish News on 6 August 2015

Directed by Judd Apatow
Written by Amy Schumer
Starring Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Mike Birbiglia, Ezra Miller, Tilda Swinton and LeBron James

This is Amy Schumer’s year. Her “Inside Amy Schumer” TV show is hot hot hot. In April, she was named one of “Time” magazine’s “100 most influential people”. Schumer wrote and stars in “Trainwreck”, which is directed by Judd Apatow, the American Jewish film-maker who seems to have reinvented film comedy in the 21st century. Where will she go next?

Amy Schumer’s character in “Trainwreck” is called “Amy Townsend”, and is clearly autobiographical. Her on-screen sister – excellently played by Brie Larson (“21 Jump Street”) is called Kim (just like her real sister) and her on-screen father (“Saturday Night Live” veteran Colin Quinn) is called Gordon, like her real dad.

Amy (the character) lives in New York City, working for a popular men’s magazine, edited by Dianna, played by unrecognisable Swinton, who creates a character of breathtaking – and genuinely hilarious – self-obsession and total lack of empathy (Swinton also wrote the “Time” magazine article about Schumer). Amy is unhappy in love, using men for sex and not expecting much from her relationships. Things change when Dianna assigns Amy to write a story about a sweet-natured sports physician, Dr Aaron Conners (comedian Bill Hader). Aaron “gets” Amy, understands her weaknesses and appreciates her strengths. Much of the film then charts Amy’s and Aaron’s attempts to develop their relationship, in the best of the romantic comedy tradition.

Like almost every Judd Apatow film, “Trainwreck” is slightly overlong with a predictable plot and conventional denouement, filled with many wonderful – some truly memorable – scenes, but ends up being somewhat less than the sum of its component parts. A number of scenes and plot devices simply don’t work. I could have skipped the “film within a film” called “The Dogwalker” starring Daniel Radcliffe (“Harry Potter”) and Marisa Tomei, much of the time spent on Amy’s relationship with her father and his illness, and an odd scene with actor Matthew Broderick, tennis star Chris Evert and New York sportscaster Marv Albert (all playing themselves) when they “counsel” Aaron.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that “Trainwreck” contains some of the funniest film lines this year, the romance is fully believable, and most minor characters (some played by previously unknown actors) give unforgettable performances. In addition to Tilda Swinton, professional basketball mega-star LeBron James – playing himself as a colleague and friend of Aaron’s – gives a subtle and delightfully comic performance. Bulked up professional wrestler John Cena also adds a lovely comic turn as one of Amy’s boyfriends (Schumer once dated professional wrestler Dolph Ziggler). Vanessa Bayer plays a ditsy magazine colleague of Amy’s who smiles when nervous (watch the scene between her and Swinton and you’ll understand). A deadpan Ezra Miller plays the funniest young editorial intern to appear on film, and – at age 100 – legendary Jewish actor Norman Lloyd plays a crotchety Jewish resident (named “Norman”) of Gordon’s Long Island nursing home.

“Trainwreck” is Amy’s story, however, her first starring film role. Like Lena Dunham in “Girls” (which Schumer recently appeared in), Schumer reflects the present moment of semi-confident, young, urban women fitfully seeking romance and professional success, in a long film tradition that extends back to “His Girl Friday”, “Working Girl”, “9 to 5”, “Legally Blonde” and “The Devil Wears Prada”. Along the way, Apatow and Schumer find time to pay quick homage to Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”, even shooting a brief scene at the Queensboro Bridge and playing George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.

Schumer is not your typical or classically beautiful romantic star: “Sydney Morning Herald” film critic Jake Wilson describes her as “one of the most original romantic comedy stars since Barbra Streisand. But like other comics of her generation, she is apparently fearless, more than willing to make a fool of herself (think Sarah Silverman). Although Schumer is Jewish (and a cousin of New York Jewish Senator Chuck Schumer), her character in “Trainwreck” is Jewish only in that its self-deprecating comedy is filled with the angst of self-doubt. Schumer is a great physical comic, and “Trainwreck” truly soars the film lets Schumer “strut her stuff”: the last scene, set in New York’s Madison Square Garden, is a total delight.

Unlike the majority of Judd Apatow’s films, which are aimed squarely at male geeks (“40 Year Old Virgin”) and slackers (“Knocked Up”), “Trainwreck” will appeal to women more than men. Minor criticisms aside, this film is a crowd-pleaser, and audiences are likely to leave the cinema feeling happy. What more can you ask for?

“Trainwreck” is Rated MA15+ in Australia, for “strong sex scenes, sexual references and coarse language”. There is lots of use of “f” word and simulated sex – much of it hilariously portrayed.


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