Sunday, November 8, 2015

A ‘Feminist’ Fraud: Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in Trainwreck.

I must confess I hadn’t been familiar with standup comic Amy Schumer’s work before I saw her starring role in the Judd Apatow directed Trainwreck. Having seen this mediocre, forgettable movie, I can now say I don’t think I’ve missed much.

Schumer wrote the film, which begins promisingly as her character Amy as a young girl (Devin Fabry) is being schooled, along with her sister Kim (Carly Oudin), by their father (Colin Quinn), who is explaining his leaving of the family by firmly stating that monogamy is simply not a realistic way to live. Flash forward to her mid-thirties as Amy Townsend (played by Schumer), now a journalist, has taken his advice to heart, unlike her monogamous sibling, regularly sleeping with many guys, usually after having drunk too much, and then discarding them the next day. She does have a boyfriend of sorts, gym buff Steven (John Cena), but when she is assigned to interview a noted sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), against her better judgment she starts to fall for him and begins to deal with the reality that he may be the One and promiscuity is not for her.

That’s an unfortunate plot point – it would have been nice for a change to see a Hollywood romance that doesn’t trod the predictable and well worn path of extolling monogamy, with a happy ending that we’ve seen time and time again, to diminishing emotional effect. It doesn’t help that the movie is so juvenile and fixated on cheap laughs, as in the unnecessary suggestion that Steven is an unaware, closeted gay guy, with unfunny salacious inferences to that fact, as it’s doubtful that savvy Amy would not figure that fact out. And the endless jokes about Amy’s actually being a closeted romantic herself, as she strenuously objects to those ‘aspersions’ run out of comic steam quickly since we know where this movie is going.

Tilda Swinton in Trainwreck.
It’s actually painful to watch Hader and Quinn essay real characters on screen when Amy is such a one-dimensional snarky type – it’s interesting that she writes herself the least interesting role in the movie – but then again they’re much the better actors. Schumer’s acting abilities are limited at best and I may be too generous in even describing her so-called performance that way. Apparently, she’s thought of as a feminist comedian, but this movie is anything but that, with her sexually freewheeling lifestyle, which ought to be a commended as right for her, actually unveiled as a fraud as the film posits that like most straight women, she, whether she’s aware of it or not, is actually looking for and won’t be happy unless she meets and settles down with Mr. Right. Does Schumer, who is single in real life, actually believe that or is she casting her net for box office success with a palatable message movie, a strategy that seems to have succeeded as the film has seemingly been playing forever?

Ostensibly, Trainwreck is directed by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), who has become less enticing with each film he does, but I won’t fault him for this specific failure as he’s really just a director for hire helming Schumer’s maladroit comedic vision. There are a few funny bits in the film, usually revolving around Tilda Swinton’s turn as Amy's pretentious British editor, doing her best impression of Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, who isn’t really interested in hard journalism but in celebrity fluff she can sell to the men who read her magazine. And while LeBron James has fun spoofing his basketball star persona, the best of his jokes, involving his addiction to Downton Abbey, is already part of the movie’s trailer so you can watch that and skip the film.

And if you do want to see a worthwhile, rewarding romantic comedy, even containing the conventional upbeat ending where the opposite types find themselves together, I can recommended so many superior movies, including Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve (1941) and the pairing of Cher and Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck (1987). In their bright cinematic light, the comically pale, washed out Trainwreck simply doesn’t compare.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches regular film courses at Toronto's Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre and Ryerson University's LIFE Institute, where he has concluded a course entitled A Filmmaker/A Country. The course looked at various great filmmakers (Akira Kurosawa, Francesco Rosi, Jafar Panahi and others) who have come to represent their country, at home and abroad, simply because they evince a deep curiosity about what makes their homeland tick, in terms of its people, its history, and its interactions with outsiders and their influences. He is currently teaching a course on documentary cinema at LIFE Institute.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed that this movie was mediocre and forgettable, but the main reason for that IMO is Amy Schumer's television show has built such high expectations. If you take this movie as emblematic of her larger body of work you truly are missing out. The "12 Angry Men" episode and "Girl, You Don't Need Makeup" skit in particular. I don't know what pressures Amy felt she needed to succumb to with this film, but it in no way holds up to the standard of her show "Inside Amy Schumer".