Think of Trainwreck as Amy Schumer’s comedy fed through Judd Apatow’s directorial dehydrator: It’s 124 minutes of everything we love about Schumer deprived of just enough bite and flavor to keep us tantalized, and not enough to make the experience special. To the credit of both Apatow and Schumer, who wrote the whole damn thing, they’ve made a funny film—and in fairness, “funny” is all that Trainwreck needs to be. When the picture clicks, you’ll be too busy bearing down and expelling laughter to catch any air or worry about politics. Schumer and her colossal supporting cast easily prove that all anyone needs to cut together a solid comedy is good old-fashioned chemistry, sharp delivery, and a surfeit of killer punchlines.
But if you’re holding out for Trainwreck to be the great mainstream feminist comedy that breaks the patriarchy’s stranglehold on the genre, you’re probably going to be pretty bummed. Trainwreck isn’t bad. (To see what bad looks like, go watch Unfinished Business.) It is, however, a letdown, which in some ways is quite a bit worse. The film’s protagonist is Amy (Schumer), a New York gal who parties hard, sexes harder, and works at a trashy guys’ magazine run by walking tonic Tilda Swinton (though you may not recognize her beneath her atypical dirty blonde locks). Amy doesn’t like to keep a man for too long, preferring to keep a rotating stable of dudes on tap, and why not? When you can regularly score with John Cena, there’s no rush to conform to social norms.
Yes, John Cena, and again: Why not? This is Schumer’s movie. She can slam ass all over town if she wants. But life rears its ugly head in Trainwreck when Amy, on assignment, interviews Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a successful sports doctor whom she sleeps with despite the fact he doesn’t fit Amy’s loosely established type (e.g., he’s not particularly brawny and he can fit through doorways without turning sideways). To Amy’s surprise, Aaron calls her the day after and begins a-courting her. The film conditions us to believe that by wooing her, he’s ice skating uphill. This is Trainwreck’s first misstep: Aaron “like” likes Amy, and we expect her to fight his affections at every turn. Instead, she welcomes them within moments of Aaron wearing her down, and the film takes a jarring left turn away from where we think it’s heading.
At least they’re a cute pair. Hader is a terrific actor—see: Skeleton Twins—and Schumer matches him handily. She can squeeze out tears when she needs to. She can go toe-to-toe in an argument with Brie Larson, who plays Amy’s conventional younger sister. That’s Trainwreck’s greatest strength: Everybody is on point, from the leads to its vast ensemble of supporting players. Jon Glaser leaves a grease stain on the screen as one of Amy’s grimy coworkers. Colin Quinn brings his usual stilted bark as Amy’s asshole father, the man responsible for passing down his commitment issues. Cena is a hoot. Swinton dominates. And LeBron James, playing LeBron James, regularly steals the show whenever he shows up as Aaron’s overprotective BFF. (If the “basketball legend” thing doesn’t work out for him, he could have a decent secondary career as a comic actor.)
But the quality of performances doesn’t disguise the film’s fustier elements. Trainwreck is a beast, but even Apatow’s best movies tend to run long. Here, it’s the conservative finger-wagging that’s bothersome. For a movie that makes a lot of hay out of female sexuality, the sex is never very sexy—you get the sense Schumer is bored and Apatow is scared by the shadow of his own erection—but maybe that’s supposed to be part of the joke. When the film shames Amy for her ways and puts her on the usual path of wholesome monogamy, though, it turns into a drag. If this is the best Hollywood can do for someone of Schumer’s caliber, she’s probably better off with television, where a story like this might end by taking the knees out from underneath audience preconceptions. Trainwreck isn’t what you expect it to be. Normally, that’d be a good thing—for this film it means hewing close to a well-worn blueprint.
The results are standardized to the point of frustration, but don’t take this as a sign you shouldn’t see Trainwreck; it’s often hysterical, it’s wonderfully acted, and if you like Schumer there’s no reason not to support her work. But there’s still room to hem, haw, and hope that next time she collaborates with somebody whose storytelling sensibilities better align with her own. (Desiree Akhavan, anyone?) Girls can be just as raunchy and carnal as boys, which means the movies we make about them can be just as traditionally pat and condescending. Trainwreck isn’t a bad movie at all, but it is disappointingly basic.
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, LeBron James, Colin Quinn, Mike Birbiglia, John Cena
Release Date: July 17, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65 percent Vermont craft brews.