Movie Review: Trainwreck
By Ben Gruchow
July 20, 2015
Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck is a movie that lives entirely in the moment. It consists of scenes and characters that change goals and dreams and traits depending on whether or not the scriptwriters wanted the moment to be raucous, sweet, dramatic, or sarcastic. It does not navigate these changes with much skill; by the time it arrives at its final set piece, the film has gone through so many tonal switches and undeveloped story threads that nothing really matters all that much. This is a messy, shapeless lump of a film; it’s hard to tell what the players behind the camera (Apatow directs, Amy Schumer writes and stars) were attempting to tell us, but I have a distressing feeling that the nugget of the movie’s pitch was developed without the right conclusion.
Let’s explore what works: As Amy Townsend, a single woman writing for a men’s magazine in New York, Schumer is a good comedian. Her instincts for timing and intonation are spot-on; her style of comedy may not agree with you, but it’s hard to deny that she’s good at what she does. She is good in Trainwreck by the measure of executing each scene’s individual requirements with feeling and energy; in the movie’s best line delivery, she describes a method of prophylaxis removal that I doubt would appear on any official instructions. She’s good in smaller moments, too: I liked when Amy uses a 3D model of herself during a treadmill demonstration (she’s assigned a piece about sports doctor Aaron Connors) to create some amusing interpretations of walking and jogging. A moment when she realizes the contents of a vial of white powder displays that good comedy depends on subtlety just as much as drama does.
Schumer has a natural presence. The character of Aaron Connors is played by Bill Hader, and he sells us on the legitimacy of his profession. The first meeting between the characters comes about 15 minutes into the film, after we’ve established Amy’s work life, her active sex life, and her social circle. The character of Amy is funny, competent, independent; she perhaps takes too much to heart her father’s words from early childhood (“Monogamy isn’t realistic!”), but she emerges in the early going as the central figure in an atypical and interesting look at contemporary female sexuality - one with a very hard-R sensibility.
Her biggest problem as we start out is the group of people she works with: they are venal, unpleasant characters; Vanessa Bayer’s Nikki, as her friend and coworker, would be a liability for anyone professing to have a healthy social support structure. They also serve as an early warning, for us in the audience: none of these people are developed beyond the level of a one-off TV sketch. Even the great Tilda Swinton, as chief editor Dianna, can’t do much with the material; she knocks each of her line readings out of the park as a casually dismissive misanthrope - but there’s no sense of dimensionality or personhood to her. She’s a delivery system for a punchline; to exacerbate the issue, a solid 80 percent of her screen time can be seen in the trailers for the movie.