Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review: "Trainwreck"

Director: Judd Apatow
Runtime: 125 minutes

Though by no means as sharp as her sketch show, Amy Schumer's leap to the big screen couldn't have come at a better time. Having finished up a third season of her acclaimed Comedy Central series (which featured an award-worthy 12 Angry Men send up), Schumer is one of the most talked about people on the comedy scene. Rightfully so, as her first feature Trainwreck (which she wrote and stars in), proves. Despite the softening around the edges that was perhaps inevitable in the leap to the big studio system, Schumer's voice has landed into the mainstream remarkably intact and genuine.

Billed as a subversion of the romantic comedy, Trainwreck isn't quite the radical comedy promised by the marketing, but that's not entirely a bad thing. Instead of firmly skewering the rom-com, Schumer and director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) have simply applied the former's voice to a traditional comedy, and made a funny and sweet film in the process. 

In fact, the only truly rebellious aspect of Trainwreck's screenplay is that it does a bit of gender-swapping in its main roles. This time, it's a woman takes on the cinematic responsibilities of being highly promiscuous all while harboring an ingrained fear of intimacy and commitment. That woman is Amy Townsend (Schumer, obviously) a Manhattanite working at a GQ-esque men's magazine who's no stranger to boozy one night stands. Amy has followed in the footsteps of her rakish father (Colin Quinn), whose mantra is, "monogamy isn't realistic" (drilled in during the hilarious opening scene). Amy's feelings are challenged, however, when her boss Dianna (a spray-tanned Tilda Swinton) assigns her an article about a surgeon (Bill Hader) who cares for A-list athletes. 

To be blunt, the rest of the film doesn't exactly contain surprises. Whether judging by Apatow's other films or by rom-coms in general, there's nothing in the structure of Trainwreck that's designed to surprise. Where the film's success comes from is that it remains (relatively speaking) grounded in reality, offering scenes that are either very funny or quite touching (or both). Though Schumer's comedy often blends vulgarity with cutting commentary, Trainwreck demonstrates that she can create genuine moments of drama as well. With Apatow in the director's chair, the shifts in tone are surprisingly smooth. When Schumer and co. take a minute to really get "serious," the end result feels realistic and sincere, without becoming pretentious. This is not the next great American dramedy, but it is a winning mix of sass and heart often missing from studio comedies. 

The second biggest surprise of the film is that, in addition to its sincerity, much of the drama falls on Schumer's shoulders. Backed up by an excellent cast, Schumer does what Jenny Slate did in last year's Obvious Child, and shows off her skills as a comedian and as a convincing dramatic actress. Amy's Amy is, depending on the scene, either the goofball or the straight (wo)man, and she handles both roles effortlessly. Whether making drunken commentary during a movie or tolerating backhanded compliments from Swinton, Schumer is a consistently winning presence whose charm is only magnified on the big screen. 

Likewise, the supporting cast is full of effective performances, starting with Hader's love interest. The SNL alum steps up to the plate as a romantic lead, and delivers convincing and heartfelt performance. His rapport with Schumer is delightful, which only makes the weightier scenes register more deeply as well. Brie Larson, playing a role modeled on Schumer's actual sister, does lovely work too. As different as the two actresses look, Larson and Schumer have a believable chemistry as siblings who are bonded by love but separated by their drastically different outlooks on life. Swinton, meanwhile, is a delight in her too-brief role as Dianna, while a whole host of Schumer's comedian friends (Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, etc...) fill out additional roles, each with solid contributions to their scenes. LeBron James (as himself) and John Cena offer riotously funny performances as well, using their limited screen time to maximum effect. 

So no, Trainwreck isn't the game changing rom-com that Amy Schumer easily could have concocted. And no, it doesn't have the stinging feminist commentary that Schumer's best sketches possess. But that doesn't stop Trainwreck from working as a highly-enjoyable means of pitching Schumer to the mainstream movie-going public. The studio system has a habit of squeezing the life out of distinctive voices. Thankfully, in Schumer's cast, the voice has remained intact. Under Apatow's guidance (or perhaps protection), Schumer has leapt to the big leagues not by compromising her voice, but by adapting to her surroundings. With this first step now out of the way, the door should be wide open for the comedian to really make her mark. And even if that means getting a few more Trainwrecks along the way, well, that's hardly a bad thing. 

Grade: B

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