Let me get this out of the way first: Trainwreck is a very good film. That needs to be said upfront, because this one of those reviews where I’m going to spend more time talking about what didn’t work rather than what did, and that imbalance might suggest that I didn’t enjoy the film. But I was thoroughly entertained for most of the film! It’s consistently funny, from its preternaturally talented leading lady (and writer), Amy Schumer, right through to the smallest roles – from Tilda Swinton’s barely-recognisable turn as a magazine editor to Method Man as a Haitian nurse. And of course, let’s not forget LeBron James, who plays himself and delivers the screenplay’s funniest lines with aplomb. But it’s never funny to listen to someone re-tell jokes, so please just accept that Trainwreck is a hilarious movie – and worth your time – before I pick apart what I didn’t like about it.
I won’t be talking about Trainwreck in the context of feminism, however. I totally understand why many critics are doing this. Schumer’s success this year is undeniably linked to the increasingly unapologetic feminist edge to her television show and public appearances, so scrutinising her film through that lens is completely valid. On the other hand, I’ve read more than enough critiques of Trainwreck for not being “feminist enough” from white dudes like myself, and I have no intent of writing another.
As seen the commentary around the recent Taylor Swift/Nicki Minaj ‘beef’, it seems the mainstream is far more comfortable attacking the feminist credentials of blonde women than the old white men who’re the real culprits. Besides, there’s nothing within Trainwreck to suggest that it’s trying to be as overtly feminist as Inside Amy Schumer: this is a gender-switched rom-com packed with plenty of jokes. While I might quibble with its adherence to the rom-com template – yet another ill parent, yet another last-minute run through the streets to perform a grand romantic gesture – the fact that it’s not “subversive” isn’t, in of itself, problematic.
No, my real issues with Trainwreck centre on the influence of one man: Judd Apatow, the director of the film. I tend to be pretty lazy when it comes to interrogating auteurism in my reviews – I’ll suggest that the movie I’m reviewing is the direct product of the director even they might have had no hand in the screenplay etc – because it’s convenient shorthand for an industry where authorship is often complicated. Most discussions of Trainwreck tend to sideline Apatow; understandable, given Schumer’s prominence both as a promoter of the film and as a public figure in general. But this is a Judd Apatow film through-and-through – to its detriment.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Judd Apatow. His influence on American mainstream comedy has been a net benefit – they’re imbued with a thoughtfulness and emotional honesty absent from Adam Sandler/Fockers films – and it’s hard to quibble with his support of the likes of Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer. Despite this, pretty much all the problems of Trainwreck – its jarring loss of momentum in its back half, the clumsy conservatism of its protagonist’s reinvention as a monogamous bore, its runtime being a solid twenty minutes too long – can be laid squarely at the feet of Mr Apatow.
You see, while Trainwreck is definitely an Amy Schumer, it’s also very much a Judd Apatow movie. Which means that it spends most of its time showing us how much fun promiscuity and intoxicants can be before chiding its audience for wanting anything other than heteronormative monogamy. Showing us how fun sleeping around and smoking pot can be tends to undercut the message that these aren’t thing that Adults should do. Apatow seems really conflicted when it comes to relationships. On one hand he asserts that they’re the end goal of middle-class life, and that anyone who doesn’t settle down with a nice family and bear blonde precocious children is a loser; on the other, he seems convinced that married life is defined by bitter fights and mind-numbing monotony. I’m sure it makes for fascinating appointments with his therapist or marriage counsellor, but this nuclear family moralising is inevitably the weakest part of his films. Okay, technically the weakest part of Trainwreck is the terrible Matthew Broderick scene (Apatow really needs a more assertive editor), but the scene where Amy clears out her apartment of all her booze and drugs comes close.
It’s tempting to imagine a version of Trainwreck that went into production a year later, at which point Schumer would’ve been an established star – with enough clout to naysay Apatow’s (presumed) tweaks to her script. The final product is a very good film, but if it could have carried across the charge and vitality of her television show it could’ve been revolutionary. Well, we can still hope – if Trainwreck is successful enough, there’s no reason not to expect a follow-up. Perhaps this time, Schumer herself will sit in the director’s chair.