Monday, July 20, 2015

No Slut-Shaming: Amy Schumer keeps overlong "Trainwreck" funny and sweet

Trainwreck (2015)
125 min., rated R.

Whoever said women aren't funny is probably kicking himself right now, and he is probably a misogynist. Amy Schumer is a brilliantly funny, unapologetic but endearingly profane stand-up comedienne who's going strong with the creation of Comedy Central's "Inside Amy Schumer" and might become more of a household name with her first big-screen vehicle. With Schumer writing the screenplay herself and Judd Apatow (2012's "This Is 40") directing, "Trainwreck" provides comedy's current "It" girl the opportunity to be brash and R-rated dirty but also sweet and relatable. As a leading lady, she is an inappropriate breath of fresh air. As a romantic comedy, the film still follows the formula, being a little more careful not to offend than Schumer's TV show, and is never as subversive as her boundary-pushing brand of humor, but it's still no shrinking violet and works as a potent showcase for Schumer. 

Schumer plays a version of herself, a Long Island single gal named Amy Townsend who's in control of her life. When she and her sister were younger, their ready-to-divorce father (Colin Quinn) gave them three important words of advice: "Monogamy isn't realistic." Twenty-three years later, Amy lets her anti-monogamy freak flag fly, sleeping with whomever she wants and whenever she wants and kicking them out before they have the chance to sleep over. She also likes to drink a lot and smoke weed here and there. At work, Amy gets an assignment at men's magazine "S'Nuff" to write a story about Manhattan sports doctor Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Though she does not follow sports, she gets to liking Aaron, and vice versa, and wastes no time sleeping with him on their first date. Unlike her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson), who has a husband (Mike Birbiglia), a stepson and a baby on the way, Amy still isn't ready to be in a committed relationship. Is she willing to change to her ways for Aaron?

As directed by Judd Apatow, "Trainwreck" walks that tightrope of being raunchy, sharp-witted and sweet, and allows a killer supporting cast plenty of room to shine and not live in the shadows of its lead. Also, as directed by Apatow, it has a tendency to go on unnecessarily longer in scenes and in sum. He seemingly just lets his actors go, giving them free rein to improvise, but sometimes, it's too much free rein. And, even though he is working from Amy Schumer's script, Apatow also allows his movies to go on longer than a more manageable 100 minutes. When all is said and done, though, none of Apatow's less-polished filmmaking instincts can kill the buzz of Schumer's screen presence and her pert, smart and personal writing. Even if it might not be as radical now, the film makes a refreshing switcheroo, debunking the double standard that a woman can never be the one playing musical sex partners or drink any man under the table. Played by the uninhibited Schumer, the character of Amy Townsend is a fully formed being with warmth and flaws without ever being an obnoxious bull in a china shop; she's able to get away with all of her reckless behavior and often-judgmental comments and yet still remain likable, and even kind of adorable. Whether she's not up to cuddling with Aaron, or making a raunchy homage to Woody Allen's "Manhattan," along with a dig at the Woodman and Soon-Yi, or snarkily yelling, "You're going to cost us the right to vote," at the booty-shaking Knicks City Dancers at a basketball game, or oversharing at her sister's baby shower during a game of Skeletons in the Closet, we still like her. Schumer just might be the total package, like another Kristen Wiig or Melissa McCarthy. She doesn't care what anyone thinks of her in terms of selling a joke, but more unexpected is how much of an understated dramatic performer she is, reaching some emotional depth in a handful of tender, delicate soul-searching moments. Lest you think Bill Hader would not be leading man material in a romantic comedy, he is perfectly charming as Aaron and proves he's equally as funny being a straight man as he is being the clown. And, luckily, he and Schumer have a natural chemistry as a couple.

Generosity extends to the supporting cast, a group of scene-stealers. Brie Larson helps create a warm, often quarrelsome, entirely believable sisterly dynamic with Schumer as Amy's younger sister Kim, who has a family and thinks she has it all figured out. Colin Quinn is surprisingly good as Amy and Kim's MS-plagued father Gordon, who now lives in an assisted-living facility and has no problem speaking his mind. Already this year, Jason Statham was a gamely loose comedic revelation in "Spy," but he gets a rival here in WWE star John Cena, who hilariously sells his sex scene as sensitive musclehead Steven, one of Amy's many partners, where his attempts at talking dirty on top of her range from nutritional phrases to would-be Nike slogans and homoerotic compliments. Basketball pro LeBron James has hidden comedic instincts, playing himself in the second-banana role as Aaron's stingy good friend. He might not be a true comic find, but he is certainly game. In other peripheral roles, the one-and-only Tilda Swinton is deliciously biting as Amy's tan, soulless boss Dianna; Vanessa Bayer, as Amy's nervously smiling co-worker Nikki, holds on to her SNL roots a bit but never not gets laughs; and Ezra Miller nails a deeply weird sex scene as magazine intern Donald. 

There is the sneaking suspicion that the marriage of Amy Schumer's brazen, acerbic humor and Judd Apatow's aversion for editing could have compromised for a tighter, snappier final product. This is not to slight Schumer's script, which resounds with honesty and quote-worthy wit, but some of the fat could have been trimmed and included on the deleted scenes feature of the DVD. Though almost all of Apatow's features have a certain let-the-scene-play-out shagginess, "Trainwreck" is the first one to feel more sluggish and overlong the longer it goes on. A few cameos that will mainly amuse sports fansone intervention scene actually has three, including Matthew Broderick, Chris Evert and sportscaster Marv Albertslow down the pacing. Said scene falls flat, and the excision of time spent with Miami Heat player Amar'e Stoudemire's knee injury might have been a wise move. As in so many like-minded romantic comedies, the characters have their falling-out and prolong their eternal embrace. Amy and Aaron have theirs, too, but neither has an ex-flame waiting in the wings to come in between the couple. The film certainly embraces the conventions inherent in the romantic-comedy genre without feeling contrived or labored. Rather, the upbeat, wonderfully crowd-pleasing finale, a declaration of love in which Amy puts herself completely out there at Madison Square Garden and makes irresistible use of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl," will slap a huge smile on one's face and render any grumblings null and void. Vulgar but not too vulgar and sneakily heartfelt without getting gooey, "Trainwreck" announces itself as a coming-out party for Schumer. With her kind of talent, she has finally cracked the code to an adult, often very funny R-rated romantic comedy for both men and women.

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