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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Trainwreck (Release Date: 7-22-2015)

        Amy Schumer is scorching hot right now, and Judd Apatow is cold as ice. The actress, comedian, and star of Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer currently possesses a career trajectory that points straight to the stars, her fame and popularity growing more pronounced each day. Apatow, on the other hand, has fallen in a rut from which he can't seem to escape. By any popular measure, the auteur's last successful directorial outing was 2007's Knocked Up, a film that's now nearly a decade in the rearview mirror. In case that doesn't strike you as all that long ago, consider that all four Transformers movies are more recent, Christopher Nolan was still just 'the guy who made Memento' at the time, and George W. Bush was still in office. In the interim, Apatow has seen his clout as a producer wilt away into almost nothing (Thanks, Drillbit Taylor!!!), while the two films he helmed in that period, Funny People and This is 40 Minutes Too Long, have already been largely forgotten. Trainwreck represents Schumer's first leading role in a theatrical release, but don't be fooled; Apatow needs her far more than she needs him.

        The movie is so eager to promote its star that it refuses to even provide her character with a different name, perhaps because the Amy of Trainwreck so closely resembles the Amy of her television show. Gleefully promiscuous, brazenly inconsiderate, and an avid enthusiast of both weed and booze, Amy is living out the end of her 20's as an endless series of one night stands. Working as a writer for an openly classless men's magazine, Amy is tasked with composing a profile of Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a celebrity surgeon who primarily operates on professional athletes. Despite starting off on a sour note, the two strike up an unlikely friendship that quickly morphs into romance, forcing Amy to consider, for the first time in her adult life, the possibility of monogamy.

        If that all reads like Knocked Up without the ticking time-bomb of impending parenthood, you're not far off. Both movies are pure romantic comedies, and both derive their main narrative thrust from the maturation of their protagonists. One could argue that the raunchy humor featured in both features sets them pair apart from the Kate Hudson/Meg Ryan school of chick flicks, but in terms of both plot mechanics and social stances, they all come equip with the very same blue print. The primary difference between the two Apatow features is in the gender of our lead actor; Schumer's Amy may harbor the same vices and comedic energy as Seth Rogen's KU character, but the fact that we've been so culturally inundated with females in this type of role causes Trainwreck to feel much more familiar. At the end of the day, this is another movie wherein a career-focused magazine writer must learn to open her heart to a sweet, caring man, and no number of joints and sex jokes can change that.

        And good lord, there are a lot of joints and sex jokes. While Apatow is far from our most consistent creator in the field of American comedy, the director has yet to craft a laugh-less movie, and Trainwreck continues this streak. LeBron James and John Cena, both star athletes making turns as thespians, perform nicely in underwritten roles, and more than a few scenes of improv watch chuckles grow into knee-slappers, like a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up speed and mass all the while. The true high points, however, are few and far between, the majority of the film's jests resulting in silent, polite snickering. The screenplay, written by Schumer but obviously adorned with innumerable passages on-the-spot tomfoolery, is simply inconsistent, and marred with a trademark Apatow failing; outdated pop culture references. Back in 2005, he was still writing jokes about Survivor, and in the year 2015, the star athlete whose career Conners seeks to salvage is Amare Stoudemire. Some things never change.

        Amy sure does, though! The movie assigns Schumer any number of parts to play through-out its two hour runtime, calling to mind the schizophrenic comedy whirlwind of mid-90's Jim Carrey. Experiencing an actor pour about 16 different personas into one single character is much easier to take when said character is a manic pet detective, a lonely cable guy, or a comic book super villain. Schumer is playing a modern woman, so watching her swap out one persona for the next on such a regular basis is hugely distracting. The only thing that truly unites the many facets of her performance is brutishness: she's rude, inconsiderate, self-obsessed, and riddled with substance abuse problems. These are the only traits we can honestly latch on to, and when the movie ultimately requires her to sand down her many faults and weaknesses, we're left wondering who, exactly, the person is that we just spent the last 120 minutes with. It's a classic example of having too much of a good thing; Schumer's dexterity as a comedian causes the film at large to lose the thread of what might make her unique. Hader fares even worse, saddled with a part that asks almost nothing of him, and hides away his immense odd-ball talents. Anyone could have played Aaron Conners, and that's because he's not a character. He's an idea, and a vehicle to get this 'trainwreck' of a woman a few steps closer to walking down the aisle.

        In an odd and nearly unmissable way, the movie is both a comeback and a coming out party, but Schumer is essentially a lock to break out eventually, even if it's not in this movie. Apatow's prospects look entirely more dubious. Funny People was an ambitious failure, and This is 40 Minutes Too Long strove for lesser heights and achieved lesser results. Trainwreck hardly aspires to anything more than a couple of good hours at the flicks, and if it realized this goal more fully, perhaps I wouldn't be distracted by all the minutia. But it doesn't, and though I enjoyed myself for stretches of the film, I couldn't help but focus more intently on its listless editing, desperate reliance on celebrity cameos, and regressive gender politics. I'm excited to see what Schumer can do with the rest of her acting career, and will always be enticed anytime that Hader's face is set to light up the silver screen. Apatow is on probation at the moment; he can win me back, but it'll take some heavy lifting.

Grade: C-

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