Thank you, Amy Schumer, for taking the rom-com in a crass, coarse, and delightfully funny direction.
Up until the July 17 opening of Trainwreck, the film she wrote as a starring vehicle for herself, Schumer is enjoying the kind of schmoopy press lovefest that a hit Comedy Central series, a lauded stand-up tour and, oh, 10 years of hard work will get you. She even turned down hosting The Daily Show, presumably because no one ties this woman down to a desk. Schumer’s latest project also serves as the litmus test for whether female-fronted films can succeed at the summer box office. No pressure, then.
Trainwreck follows the life of a woman (named Amy) who has commitment issues, resents her married-with-children friends, and sleeps around. After meeting a guy she actually likes (played by Bill Hader), she ruins it — or he does. It’s not entirely clear. In other words, she resembles a lot of women we all know, in all their highly evasive, walk-of-shame glory. In this way, Trainwreck acts as a manifesto for the modern woman in all the ways traditional rom-coms never could. This one’s not afraid of making mistakes.
Schumer wrote Trainwreck after Judd Apatow heard her on Howard Stern talking (and joking) about her father’s battle with M.S. A good joke is a good joke to Schumer, no matter the target. But here she mostly takes aim at herself. Apatow directed the film, his first with a female in the lead role. The result hews closely to the ol’ genre standbys, but then it distorts them for comedic effect. She overshares during a baby shower, rebuffs the meathead who wants to father her babies, and during a falling-in-lust montage with Hader’s character, she performs a time-honored sexual act on him, on a city park bench, in a twisted salute to Annie Hall.
So, no, this is not your typical rom-com pairing. (Even the actors’ press hits lampoon Hollywood’s obsession with actors playing to “type.” During an interview about Hader’s unlikely evolution into a leading man, Jon Hamm sat in for the former Saturday Night Live guy.) Meanwhile, Schumer’s latest magazine cover stories focus on cellulite, sexism, and self-image. “Confidence has nothing to do with how you look,” she told Glamour magazine. “I feel happiest when I’m with friends and I’m working really hard.” (She also noted that she’d like a lot of money and a jet.)
Her film is much like an actual train wreck, in that viewers can’t look away. Hader’s character initially isn’t entirely appealing; he’s awkward, dare I say, stiff, the yin to Amy’s topsy-turvy yang. He works for Doctors Without Borders. She’s a Serial Dater Without Borders. After hooking up with guys she generally makes like Princess and the Pea and finds any excuse to get out of that stranger’s bedroom. “You’ve always dated dummies,” Amy’s sister tells her. “You were never at risk for liking them.”
Despite skewering a gasping-for-breath genre and playing with traditional cliches (yes, there’s a big running-through-the-city climax and yes, she works at a big, glossy, wretched magazine) Trainwreck is still this perfect mix of salty and sweet. You might even cry. Actually, you probably will cry.
Which brings us to why Trainwreck works — and why Amy Schumer works. She commits to the most agonizingly real moments on her show, whether that means featuring three famous women discussing the day they’ll cease to be sexually attractive, or 12 angry men debating whether Amy’s “hot” enough to grace their TV screens. The film exudes that fearlessness. In one memorable fight scene, her boyfriend wants to talk through their problems, but Amy torpedoes their relationship. It’s a brilliant bit of self-sabotage in a genre that rarely pokes fun at itself in that knowing way. Bridget Jones fussed about every extra pound keeping her from her dream man; what’s-her-name fretted over 27 bridesmaid dresses; Amy can’t be bothered, she’s too busy living her life and “catching that D.”
Amy is the untamed, whiskey-breathed yet charming and relatable protagonist women have been waiting for. How many Jennifer Garners, Sandra Bullocks, Katherine Heigls do you know in real life? A character in the film calls Amy “clever but not too brainy, pretty-ish but not beautiful.” That may sting, but remember, she wrote that line herself.
The depth of character development lavished on the writing lends an extra comedic edge. I can’t remember the last time a rom-com showed a heroine talking to or even acknowledging her parents. Carrie Bradshaw’s might well have been dead. Compare that with Trainwreck, which opens with young Amy’s dad lecturing her on why monogamy is unrealistic. (Later, he’s stricken with M.S. — like Schumer’s dad — and lives in a care facility. Even this painful subject is mined for laughs.) The audience sees the origins of the character’s commitment phobia, and grows more empathetic, much in the way we can commiserate with a friend’s terrible date because we’ve also heard about the 20 hellish dates that preceded it.
Touchy-feely family stuff will have its snake-toothed critics — “Why do you want us to feel, Amy, why can’t we just laugh and do the walk of shame together?” — but fleshing out the roots of dysfunction so the audience can understand how a character got so messed up in the first place feels fresh, even revolutionary. Furthermore, this Amy feels identical to the Amy of three seasons of Comedy Central. We already know her. She’s our friend. She might be us.
During her lonely, finding-herself phase, she drinks coffee at Veselka, finds familial redemption, reforms her boozy, drug-hazed ways, and in the big twist actually…tries something new. (I won’t reveal that something; no, it’s not sex-related.) She gives up hiding behind her writing at S’Nuff, the men’s magazine spitting out “We Forgive You, Lance Armstrong” and “Ugliest Celebrity Kids Under 6” stories.
It’s her willingness to take a risk and expose herself to possible ridicule that actually gets the most laughs. But Amy doesn’t care if you approve. Like your most daring friend, she’s doing whatever the hell she wants. Audiences can come along for the ride or watch the train wreck from the tracks. She’s already way ahead of them, laughing all the way.