Trainwreck review – Amy Schumer's romcom is a mixed platter of crudities

Judd Apatow’s latest is rough around the edges, but his focus on a female protagonist refreshes a genre in sore need of change

Judd Apatow made his name as the slightly stoned father of the bromantic comedy. The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up were hugely lucrative, foul-mouthed yet cosy stories of male angst. But he has ultimately found more success focusing on women. Producing the Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids gave him his biggest box-office hit, while working with Lena Dunham has led to four series and counting of acclaimed HBO show Girls.

After the somewhat self-indulgent double whammy of Funny People and This Is 40, Apatow has decided to take on a collaborator – and he’s picked well. Amy Schumer has rapidly become one of TV’s funniest comedians, and her sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, regularly skewers society’s expectations of women in modern culture with daring and big laughs.

But aside from bit parts (Woman #1 in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), Schumer is pretty much a big-screen virgin. Graduating from glorified extra to leading lady is quite a gamble, but her transition with Trainwreck, which she also wrote, is effortless. The role fits her perfectly because she’s playing an extreme version of herself, with elements carefully lifted from her own life.

Trainwreck Amy is a journalist for a crude men’s magazine, who enjoys her life of hard-drinking and sexual freedom, refusing to settle down and enjoying an array of different men. She lives by her father’s mantra that “monogamy is not realistic” and sees no reason to change. Her sister, on the other hand (excellently played by Brie Larson), has opted for a very different lifestyle, settling down with a husband and stepson, much to Amy’s disgust.

But – and you might have seen this coming – Amy’s view on relationships gets a shake up when she meets a guy who suddenly causes her carefully built defensive walls to fall. Aaron, played by Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader, is a sports doctor who Amy must write an article about. As their intimacy increases, Amy is forced to re-examine her lifestyle.

What makes Trainwreck initially so interesting is its portrayal of a woman who is unapologetically sexual and utterly repulsed by the idea of marriage and children. What’s smarter is that we’re not talking about a broadly sketched Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher, but a layered and complicated character, who uses sex at times of unhappiness as a temporary form of release.

Schumer is an engaging and impressively confident presence who surrounds herself with an equally talented cast. The standouts include an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as her brash, heartless boss and NBA star LeBron James who plays Hader’s surprisingly sappy confidante. But, as with many Apatow movies, there are a few too many characters – and scenes – and the focus isn’t always as sharp as it could be.

While the first half of the film is peppered with funny moments and smart insights, it sags near the end and too many jokes fall flat. As with Bridesmaids, the film uses the lead character’s often selfish and harmful behaviour for laughs early on – but unlike Kristen Wiig’s more nuanced movie, Trainwreck holds back from cutting quite so deep in the third act. Schumer isn’t afraid to go all out with her comedy, but it feels like she’s muffling the pain – for now, at least.

While there are things to quibble with, there is also so much to like, and Trainwreck is still an important film. The romantic comedy, which it ultimately becomes, has been a dying genre of late, and Schumer’s effort, while flawed, is a reminder of what can make the genre so likable. It is also refreshing to see a woman, sick of generic female roles, write one for herself that’s rooted in reality. As with her TV show, Schumer has challenged the entertainment industry’s staid perception of her gender. And while it doesn’t go anywhere quite so radical, Trainwreck is an enjoyable trip in the right direction.

• Trainwreck is released in the US on 17 July, Australia on 30 July and in the UK on 28 August.


Benjamin Lee

The GuardianTramp

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