Hellraiser, Reconstructed (Sadly): Trainwreck
*Spoilers* [but honestly, at this point, if it’s a surprise, it’s probably your own fault].
How astonishingly depressing.
Trainwreck, the highly-anticipated celluloid scribing/acting debut of much touted US stand-up hellion Amy Schumer, arrives with formidable hype off the back of the comic’s raunchy, eponymous sketch telly show.
Directed by faltering bro-pack Godfather Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up), Trainwreck’s pre-release buzz has near uniformly focused on the firebrand comedian’s anticipated laceration of Hollywood romantic comedy tropes.
Broadly autobiographical, Trainwreck follows thirty-something lad’s mag journo, Amy (what are the odds?), who exhibits all the sport fucking, booze slamming attributes espoused by publications of that ilk.
Better still, Amy (or so it initially seems) harbours no guilt or regret about her lifestyle (and nor should she). Her conquests are interchangeable, her liver function heroic, and she still manages to show up to work at S’Nuff magazine to weather the sardonic depredations of her monstrous editor, Dianna (Tilda Swinton), and bash out the odd seventy fifty on blowjob techniques or anal bleaching for gentlemen.
Opening with a cantankerous anti-monogamy diatribe in flashback, delivered by Amy’s philandering, racist dad Gordon (Colin Quinn) — to his prepubescent daughters, natch — Schumer’s script quickly establishes its subversive ambitions.
So far, so good.
When she’s not out on the turps or getting one away, Amy and her ‘good’ sister, Kim (Brie Larson), are locked in a low level battle of sibling wills over Gordon’s assisted living situation and its expense. Additionally, pregnant Kim has settled for the safe, dorky Tom (Mike Birbiglia) and is stepmother to rom-com central casting ‘awkward kid’ Allister (Evan Brinkman).
Commitment-phobe Amy clearly disdains everything about their WASP-y, conventional suburban relationship.
Any alarm bells ringing yet?
They should be, because when editor Dianna assigns Amy a profile of renowned sports surgeon Aaron (Bill Hader), things list precipitously, then slide steadily downhill.
Dismissive of ‘sport’, and ignorant of Aaron’s megastar celebrity bestie, one LeBron James (providing oh-so against type Agony Aunt support to the hapless medico), Amy makes quick work of getting the good doctor shickered and into the sack, before realising that, oh shit, she might have feelings for him. It’s here that the arcane, mildly psychotic rituals of American dating culture get an airing, with things between the two leads escalating quickly, a stark contrast to the slightly more pragmatic Antipodean ‘roll o’ the dice’ approach.
Troubling, also, is Hader’s Aaron. He’s likeable enough (even the ailing Gordon warms), but there’s also an element of simpering man-baby to him, a streak of male entitlement and manipulative, foreboding passive aggression that rankles. While Amy’s propensity to hit the sauce, blow the odd spliff, and daring to covet her continued employment (let’s not even discuss the inevitable ‘how many people have you fucked’ shit-fit) is increasingly viewed through the lens of hedonism and selfishness — few if any questions are raised regarding mostly friendless, insipid Aaron’s deficit of acceptance and compromise.
I mean, if that’s where this is headed, at least outline a more equitable blueprint, right?
As Trainwreck, frustratingly, gathers momentum en route to its inevitable conclusion, one wonders what hand the white bread, family unit propagandising Apatow had on proceedings behind the scenes, his authoritarian, convention espousing frustratingly ever the more evident.
While we’re on the topic of Apatow, it’s heartening to note that while Trainwreck could still do with a healthy editorial nip and tuck here and there, the director’s legendary sag has been addressed. Still, said sag would be arrested appreciably with the winking, ‘see who I know, guys?’ cameos jettisoned. I mean, I’m sure it’s very exciting to have Sports Personality X on set, but they’re surplus to means and, when it comes down to it, not very amusing.
And if 98 per cent of punters could even identify Dave Attell or why he’s even vaguely notorious, well… Actually, make that 99.5 per cent. Elsewhere, Randall Park (VEEP), Ezra Miller (Swinton’s We Need To Talk About Kevin alum) and WWF wrestler John Cena (wrestling) are used to varying effect, as is Manhattan, which gets a chilly, Annie Hall riffing treatment from cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes.
Still, following a death and inevitable turmoil with Aaron, we’re in conventional rom com territory — where once Amy slugged chardonnay and talked filth at interminable, Stepford-style baby showers, the template demands she now gets to soul searching and attempting to appease her helmet-haired, sports-science pioneering beau.
This, of course, involves ditching the bong, donating the liquor cabinet to the friendly neighbourhood homeless chap, updating the wardrobe to ‘demure’, and hanging out with senior citizens to atone for all that naughty sex and un-lady-like joie de vivre.
It’s this acquiescence to convention and mainstream norms that really sets the teeth on edge — the final set piece, a dance number, no less, calls back to and upends Amy’s good natured sports loathing obliviousness, for instance.
For all of Schumer’s ‘fuck you’, convention flouting aspirations, Trainwreck hinges on the narrative betrayal of Amy prostrating herself on the altar of normality to appease this rather dull dude, who, spoilers, could potentially have given some thought to why he pursued a relationship with a so-called trainwreck in the first place.
Putting on my script doctor hat (deerstalker), I’d posit a more compelling, subversive arc would have been a failed relationship wherein there is less ceding of one’s entire persona in deference to the demands of another, but, perhaps, the first inklings of owning said persona without necessarily embracing the existence you previously found reprehensible.
Admittedly, that’s expecting a lot from an Apatow film.
Of course, the elephant in the room here is Hollywood morality: the expectation that lessons will be learned, behaviours reconsidered, lifestyles rejiggered to fit the status quo and leave the audience stoned on the power of love (as one mum-jeaned poet once put it).
Still, up ’til the third act turn, Trainwreck is predominantly a dirty, thoughtful exploration of the contemporary romantic landscape, confronting the hypocrisy of societally imposed gender norms and fantastical relationship expectations.
Sadly, all this mildly confronting, postmodern recalibration of norms squibs it with a conventional denouement, playing straight (see that?) into white, heteronormative genre expectations.
So, then: worth seeing, but with huge caveats. Here’s hoping Ms Schumer finds herself in less conventional directorial company on her next outing
Originally published at www.hopscotchfriday.com.