Trainwreck review: Amy Schumer stays on the rails

The proto-femi-satirist teams up with monogamy-mad Judd Apatow for an amusing if overlong and weirdly reactionary romcom

This week, Donald and Tara review romcoms Trainwreck and Mistress America. Plus, Donald explains how films today get the rare 18 certificate.

Film Title: Trainwreck

Director: Judd Apatow

Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James, Randall Park, Vanessa Bayer, Ezra Miller, Mike Birbiglia, Norman Lloyd

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 124 min

Thu, Aug 13, 2015, 14:18

   

The poster for Judd Apatow’s diverting, absurdly overlong, politically uncertain romcom shows Amy Schumer slugging booze from a bottle while waving a “no you don’t” finger at the passer by. The film is called Trainwreck.

The unavoidable suggestion is that Apatow’s latest (a partial recovery after the poor Funny People and the appalling This Is 40) concerns a young woman in danger of metaphorical derailing. Apatow made his name with dubious stories concerning dissolute (but funny and imaginative) men being told off by sensible (but dull and judgmental) female partners. Are we about to get an unwanted distaff version?

In a sense. As writer of the film and mistress of the zeitgeist, Schumer, whose TV sketches have an agreeable abrasiveness, can reasonably be considered the dominant auteur here. It is, thus, all the more baffling that we have ended up with such a conservative piece of work.

The opening sections offer us a character most red-blooded folk would care to spend time with. Amy, journalist with a horrid, snarky magazine, likes the odd tumbler of wine, knows her way around a quip and is not averse to men. That tendency to fake sleep after orgasm only adds to her belligerent charm.

If Trainwreck didn’t have that title, the audience might be persuaded they were looking at a very different beast to the traditional Apatow “save me from myself” comedy. Maybe the picture will allow itself a celebration of the heroine’s unfettered exuberance. No such luck.

There is, perhaps, a cultural distinction at work here. Amy may seem like a “trainwreck” in chi-chi corners of Williamsburg, New York, but few would feel the need to call in the life police if she were behaving this way in, say, Mullingar, Co Westmeath.

Anyway, with depressing inevitability, the film eventually falls into familiar patterns. Amy must find a decent, boring man (unlike the butch lunk played amusingly by John Cena), fall in love with his conventional chin, and then muck up the relationship by being too much like herself. If we’re really lucky, the film will end with her rushing to his side and debasing herself in entirely unnecessary apology.

Can you tell what it is yet? When it was announced that Schumer – a gender satirist of admirable venom – was to move into film, her fans can hardly have expected her to fashion a variation on Bridget Jones’s Diary. Trainwreck even focuses on a journalist who is dispatched on unsuitable assignments: ultimate life partner Aaron (underused Bill Hader), doctor to celebrity sports stars, is the subject of an interview.

To be fair, the film is a good deal funnier than that unmissed millennial phenomenon. It helps that there is some great support in the wings. Tilda Swinton makes a miraculous physical transformation into a flick-haired, tobacco-skinned editor with antennae permanently tuned for the crass and the trivial. LeBron James (a basketball player, apparently) is funnier still in an extended cameo that works up a version of the superstar as tight-fisted prig.

A warm personality with heavenly timing, Schumer just about gets away with extended riffs that seem culled from a stand-up routine: the stuff on menstruation works very well; the cobwebbed material on when to phone after a first date has not improved since first delivered by Alexander Graham Bell. Of everything (even the things that work), there is a much too much.

For Apatow, Trainwreck probably registers as a slight nudge forwards. After all, his films could hardly get more self-indulgent or queasier in their treatment of women.

Schumer’s journey is more puzzling. There is nothing in the shape or philosophy of Trainwreck that one could not have found in a Doris Day film. Come to think of it, Rock Hudson didn’t make Doris give up her old life in Pillow Talk.

At last. Trainwreck drags the romantic comedy kicking and screaming into the late 1950s.