A Review of Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck: Disappointing (Though Mildly Entertaining)

trainwreck review amy schumer bill hader

Film: Trainwreck
Director: Judd Apatow
Primary Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, LeBron James, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, John Cena, Mike Birbiglia, Ezra Miller
US Release Date: 17 July 2015

Directed by Judd Apatow and written by Amy Schumer, Trainwreck is a romantic comedy that puts a spin on a few of the genre’s conventions, but it never quite manages to break new ground. 

The film follows Amy (Schumer), who adopts her father’s claim that “monogamy isn’t realistic” as a sort of personal mantra after her parents’ divorce. Amy works as a writer at an overtly sexist magazine, likes to drink and party, and regularly has one-night stands. Amy’s sister Kim (Larson) is happily married and has a stepson. Early in the film, Amy and Kim transfer their father Gordon (Quinn) into an assisted living facility, and Amy visits him there throughout the film.

At the beginning of Trainwreck, Amy is dating Steven (Cena), but is also sleeping with other men. When Steven realizes that this is the case, he breaks up with Amy. Shortly after, Amy meets Aaron (Hader), a successful sports doctor, who she is supposed to write a profile on for work. Since Aaron is the male protagonist in the film, he and Amy hit it off. Though Amy doesn’t initially want to fall for Aaron and is hesitant to develop a relationship with him, she does. There are a few obligatory bumps in the road, but by the end of the film, Amy is ready to start a new life as a picture of monogamous heteronormative virtue with Aaron.

Before last Sunday, I had never paid to see a movie directed by Judd Apatow, and I probably won’t be doing so again. Bill Hader and Amy Schumer (but mostly Bill Hader) were enough to get me in the door, but neither of them have enough talent to fully disguise the fact that Trainwreck is really quite ordinary at the end of the day.

Before I get into Trainwreck‘s problems, allow me make it clear that there are some good things about the film. Even I won’t deny that it’s usually entertaining. I chuckled plenty of times throughout the film, and I even shed a tear or two (yeah, I know).

On top of that, I was often charmed by the film’s characters, and was frequently impressed by the film’s cast. Schumer and Hader both give strong performances and, in more than one instance, they help to elevate the material that they are given quite a bit. I am a fan of Hader; I enjoyed his work in The Skeleton Twins, and he demonstrates even more of his ability and range in Trainwreck. After watching the film, I am even more eager to see what this former SNL cast member does next. Schumer is also good in the film. There is something very down-to-earth about her that will surely appeal to many, and the film makes it clear that, as an actress, she is capable of more than her previous work might indicate. It’s just a shame that she didn’t have a better script to work with (more on that later).

Several members of the film’s supporting cast also give strong performances. Tilda Swinton is particularly entertaining (and nearly unrecognizable) as Amy’s hostile and demanding boss. LeBron James is also fun-to-watch. As Aaron’s friend (and as himself), he is funnier and has more charisma than I expected. As Amy’s sister Kim, Brie Larson does a fine job with the material she is given, but she is also capable of more than Trainwreck gives her credit for.

I don’t watch many romantic comedies, but my guess would be that Trainwreck is better than average for the genre. There is probably a pretty good movie buried somewhere in Trainwreck. Unfortunately, it’s hidden under several issues that are just too damaging for me to overlook.

Though it boasts some quality performances and is quite funny in spots, Trainwreck is ultimately let down by its uneven script. Schumer wrote the film. On television and in stand-up, she is known for irreverent and bawdy humor. She is also known for displaying a limited degree of feminism and for the occasional racist joke. As funny as she can be, there are certain things about her comedy that are hard to love, and just about all of them make an appearance in Trainwreck. Some of the jokes in the film don’t quite land. Others are annoyingly thoughtless. And a few of them (many of which are uttered by Amy’s dad) are racist and offensive (and seem to have been included for no real reason at all).

Another issue that plagues Trainwreck is its length. The film is simply too long for the material. There are too many narrative threads that have to be tied up before the film ends, and things get a little boring in a few spots. There are certain moments in Trainwreck (including Amy’s sexual encounter with an intern), that Apatow should have cut. In fact, better (read: more) editing really could have improved the film. Maybe it’s just me, but I was also bothered by the film’s obligatory parade of SNL cast members. Unlike Hader and Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Leslie Jones, and Pete Davidson don’t serve any real purpose in Trainwreck, and their (brief) presence is more distracting than anything else.

While I do appreciate the fact that Trainwreck at least tries to reverse certain aspects of typical romantic comedy gender roles, I can’t help but be bothered by the fact that it doesn’t do enough. Apatow’s film may want to come across as fresh and new, but its brief flashes of forward thinking are severely undermined by its conservative and formulaic plot. Making a film about a sexually aggressive and independent woman who has no interest in marriage and having her fall in love with a grounded guy who wants a family may look progressive and feminist at first, but Trainwreck doesn’t follow through on this promise. 

In fact, by indicating that Amy is “broken” simply because she has never really wanted to settle down into a monogamous relationship, get married, and have a family—or because her parents got a divorce, she smokes pot, and likes to drink—is downright ridiculous. It’s also harmful and clichéd. At the end of the day, Trainwreck would have viewers believe that falling in love (and wanting to fall in love) according to the monogamous heteronormative standard is what a person needs to be whole and happy. What’s the point of featuring a female protagonist like Amy, if you are just going to tame her in the end? The film doesn’t explicitly shame Amy for liking to sleep with a lot of men, but by indicating that she can’t be truly happy until she abandons that lifestyle, it might as well have. The film also works to establish a number of contrasts between Amy and her sister, which are clearly meant to suggest that Amy needs to make herself more like Kim. Why not give viewers a film in which both women—Amy as she is at the beginning and Kim as she is throughout—can be happy, regardless of their sexual activity and ideas about family?

If Apatow’s film presented itself as a typical romantic comedy, some of these aspects of the film might not bother me quite as much. But Trainwreck wants to have it all. It wants to be edgy without doing the work, and that is something I take issue with. 

Until Next Time
Thanks so much for reading. As always, feel free to let me know what you think of this review by leaving a comment below. You are also welcome to interact with me (or to recommend movies to me) any time on twitter. I recently saw Amy, so expect to see something on that shortly. I may go see Mr. Holmes in the next week, but I’m not sure whether or not I will end up reviewing it. As far as I know, there aren’t that many wide releases that I am looking forward to in the next month or so, so I may spend some time rewatching old favorites or adventuring through my Netflix queue. But really, who the hell knows?
Get Trainwreck on Blu-ray and DVD. 

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