Now Playing: ‘Trainwreck’ and the misuse of funny women

Douglas Markowitz

As one of the most subversive comedians working today, Amy Schumer’s meteoric success is unsurprising. Her hit TV show Inside Amy Schumer fine-tunes her brand of comedy first seen in the fantastic stand-up special Mostly Sex Stuff and a star-making appearance on Comedy Central’s Roast of Charlie Sheen into a revelatory machine. The show mercilessly satirizes ridiculous situations society and entertainment place women in and asserts again and again that yes, women actually enjoy sex. In its finest moment, the show staged a 30-minute adaption of 12 Angry Men where the jurors debate whether Schumer is attractive enough to be on TV (Verdict: hot enough. Actual answer: it shouldn’t matter). Now, as if crossing the finish line at the 100 meter dash, her quick ascent to the top of the comedy A-list reaches its highest height, the most ignominiously coveted prize of all: starring in a Judd Apatow movie.

Graphic by Rachelle Keller
Graphic by Rachelle Keller

Once a very talented comedy writer in his own right, Apatow is known more nowadays as a producer. He’s had a hand in nearly every major studio comedy since he directed The 40 Year Old Virgin, from Anchorman to Bridesmaids and many others in between. All of these films have a very specific focus on improvisation: sitting back, rolling the camera and letting Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd and whomever else do what they do best. He also enjoys cultivating comedic talent, and apparently he and Schumer really hit it off, because for his latest film, only the fifth he’s directed himself, she wrote the script and starred in her first-ever big screen role. The film is Trainwreck, and rather than derailing, it never leaves the station at all.

Initially, the film looks to be cleverly mocking of romantic comedy tropes and formula. Cementing its status as a vehicle for its lead, Schumer plays a version of herself, a practice common on her TV show. A single woman living in New York and writing for a seedy men’s magazine, she parties hard, sleeps around and feels absolutely no shame. Through a series of decisions that a legitimate journalist would consider highly unethical, she meets Aaron (Bill Hader), a successful surgeon in sports medicine. From there, the plot goes through the horribly familiar motions of the last decade’s rom-coms: Amy and Aaron fall in love, separate for a brief while, then she wins him back. All the while, we expect Trainwreck to go off the rails of this formula, but it doesn’t. Occasionally there are moments that hint at a winking sensibility, that Schumer might be in on the joke, but they are too few and far between to make an impact. Ultimately, Trainwreck is a standard, paint-by-numbers studio rom-com where the female gets all the action and commitaphobia instead of the male.

That’s only the most glaring problem in a movie filled with flaws. The film is a slog at 125 minutes. Schumer’s narration stops halfway through and makes her sound like a moron. Apatow also continues his streak of being the most successful working director that can’t direct, giving the film all the visual panache and distinctiveness of a turkey sandwich. Oddly, the film’s highlight was none other than LeBron James. Romantic comedy is often derided for the “black best friend,” a companion with only three traits: (s)he’s African-American, says sassy things, and inexplicably hangs out with the (always white) protagonist (see also: gay best friend, magical negro). In this film, however, LeBron James isn’t just the black best friend: he’s LeBron James. Not only that, but he’s also funny, charming and cares deeply about Aaron.

LeBron James is the highlight of Trainwreck with his funny, charming and caring role. Photo courtesy Facebook
LeBron James is the highlight of Trainwreck with his funny, charming and caring role.
Photo courtesy Facebook

But just as in basketball, James can’t carry the entire team alone. He certainly can’t make up for the abysmal ending, where Amy agrees to throw out all her booze and bongs and change herself completely for Aaron, throwing out all the sex-positive, be-yourself messages in the rest of Schumer’s work. Her big moment of redemption, where she shows herself willing to begin anew, is doing a cheeky routine with the Knicks City Dancers. It runs counter to everything Schumer stands for, which makes me think, despite the fact that she wrote the script, Hollywood has no idea what to do with its talent.

Even in a very progressive age with the most hospitable comedy climate ever known, where dozens of comedians have their own TV shows where they’re free to experiment all they want, the major studios are woefully stuck in the past, especially when it comes to females. They just used one of the funniest women alive in a factory-made rom-com. The Ghostbusters remake with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, a genuinely interesting and exciting project if only because it stars four women, will allegedly be joined by a pointless companion project with an all-male cast. Later this summer, cinemas will be graced with a remake of National Lampoon’s Vacation that nobody asked for. Even the independent sector is riddled with unsatisfying pet projects premiered by their famous stars at Sundance that rightfully go straight to VOD. And the less said about Adam Sandler, the better.

There are notable exceptions, two of them being the aforementioned Bridesmaids and this year’s Melissa McCarthy-starring Spy. But for the most part, Hollywood has a problem making the multiplex come alive with laughter. More than any other genre, other mediums are passing the movies by. Is it because they believe firmly in reaching the lowest common denominator? Is it the difficulty in writing a satisfying script? Or do they simply have bad taste in humor? Whatever the case, there needs to be a change. We certainly don’t need another Trainwreck any time soon.

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