Amy Schumer's Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, wrapped its best year yet shortly before her big movie, Trainwreck, opened to rave reviews and big numbers. Her show, in which the comedienne stealthily interrogates misogyny in topics ranging from rape in the military to the perceived hotness level of actresses, primed my expectations for her film to be an acerbic demolition of romantic comedy tropes. Disappointingly, it is not that. Trainwreck is funny throughout, but it exists comfortably and unironically in the company of earlier films starring Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl.
Schumer's character, also named Amy, leads Trainwreck down its very funny, if formulaic, track. Amy is a serial man-izer (?), sleeping with different anonymous dudes as often as possible. This worldview has been inculcated in her by her father Gordon (Colin Quinn), who also engaged in prolific promiscuity throughout his life, though he's now crippled by multiple sclerosis. Amy is very much her father's daughter, while sister Kim (Brie Larson) is the polar opposite, a settled-down wife and stepmother to dowdy Tom (Mike Birbiglia) and eccentric Allister (Evan Brinkman). When not drinking, carousing, or hassling Kim about her hackneyed family life, Amy works at a despicable magazine that makes Maxim look like Good Housekeeping. Ordered by her boss to write a cover story about ground-breaking sports doctor Aaron (Bill Hader), the sports-phobic Amy and unlucky-in-love Aaron manage to hit it off and begin a fledgling relationship.
From there, the film gets increasingly predictable and clichéd. Two NYC montages are included, one happy and winking, the other downcast and sincere. It's as if the city was another character. Things begin to progress in a depressingly familiar way. The central relationship undergoes a hasty separation based on the characters' fears, but it's nothing an embarrassing rock-bottom encounter, and some wise words from a child, can't fix. There's no greater offender than the big reunion choreographed to a music number, something that beggars belief from a character and plot standpoint. With Judd Apatow behind the camera, it isn't too surprising that there's a visible frame undergirding the film. For all the fluidity that he's brought to individual scenes in his previous films, they all combine to a near-identical structure that no amount of improvised body-hair-removal scenes can distract from.
However, it's those improvised scenes that make Apatow successful, and Trainwreck has plenty of uproarious moments. A deep supporting cast featuring comedy pros like Randall Park and Jon Glaser and comedy rookies like John Cena and Lebron James all pull their weight. An unrecognizable Tilda Swinton is hilariously dismissive of her staff as Amy's boss, and Quinn effortlessly brings his crochety persona. Hader is more of a straight man than he tends to play, but his timing remains strong when he's reacting to jokes instead of instigating them. Schumer, however, is the clear winner, anchoring the film with her consistently funny outlook and delivery. An early riff on Titanic sets the stage and from there, it's cutting remark after perfect reaction shot after stunned silence. It was a given that she could play the fool, and, as expected in an Apatow movie, she also has no problem with the heavier scenes. Led by Schumer, no one fails to get laughs in her egalitarian script.
For all the successful humor, the cliches of Trainwreck cast a pall over the film. In an unfortunate coincidence, I had just watched They Came Together the previous night, and to my considerable shock, Trainwreck indulged in many of the tropes that that spoof viciously exposes as pablum. It's possible that in her first lead role, Schumer and Apatow had to accept studio interference to compensate for her lack of a film resume. Hopefully, with Trainwreck's great success at its back, she now has the clout to scrape together a smaller budget and make the film that her show insists she is capable of. No montages required. C+