Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Trainwreck

Review by Pamela Zoslov


Seldom has a movie been as aptly named than TRAINWRECK, an assemblage of poorly fitted comedic and sentimental ideas that sputter and wobble, colliding in a ridiculous cheerleader dance number that has to be seen to be believed.


In fairness, there are many funny moments and good performances in the film debut of comedian Amy Schumer, who wrote the screenplay. Schumer, a standup comic who has a sketch comedy show on Comedy Central, has a funny, transgressive comic persona and a round-faced, broad-nosed look refreshingly uncharacteristic of leading ladies.


Like Lena Dunham, Schumer has been taken under the wing of director-producer Judd Apatow, whose judgment about comedy writing seems to slip a little more every year. Could the sharp writer of The Larry Sanders Show and KNOCKED UP really have signed off on this sophomoric script? According to a New York Times profile of Schumer, Apatow was “astounded by [Schumer's] work ethic. 'If I gave her notes, she would come back in like five, six days with a completely new draft.'....even as she juggled her series [“Inside Amy Schumer”] and standup dates.” Apatow's awe of his protégé's talent may have blinded him to the need for more, and still more rewrites. (See also: Girls.)


Schumer stars as Amy, a 32-year-old writer for a men's magazine called “S'nuff.” Like Schumer, the movie's Amy has a married sister (Brie Larson) and a dad suffering from MS (Colin Quinn). Amy has modeled herself after her dad, a compulsive philanderer. She engages in serial one-night stands and assiduously avoids commitment. Her one steady beau is a muscle-bound lunkhead named Steven (played by wrestler/rapper/actor John Cena). Sex with Steven, Amy quips, is “like fucking an ice sculpture.” She's not faithful to him: we see her waking up in strange beds (“Please don't let it be a dorm room!” she moans on awakening next to a wall of posters), and hustling a series of men out her apartment door après-sex. She drinks to excess and smokes a lot of pot.


The magazine she works for, though not once do we see her in the act of writing, is a kind of extra-salacious Maxim, where the male writers pitch offensive story ideas like “You Call Those Breasts?” and “You're Not Gay, She's Just Boring.” Her bitchy British editor, Dianna (Tilda Swinton) assigns her to write a profile of a sports-medicine surgeon, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), whose best pal is LeBron James. As it happens, Amy hates sports and says “Sports are stupid, and anyone who likes them is a lesser person.” In the course of profiling the nice doctor, Amy forces her way into his bed, and is startled when he actually calls her the next day. (“I think you just butt-dialed me?”)

Amy is surprised to find herself in a genuine romance with a nice guy (he also works for Doctors Without Borders). In a mildly funny sequence, she provides cynical narration over a Woody Allenish Central Park “love montage.” In typical romantic comedy fashion, Amy and Aaron's romance deepens, then breaks apart. At the same time, she must deal with her father's illness, his placement in a nursing home, and conflicts with her sister over Dad's care.

The movie wobbles between scabrous sex humor and sweet sentimentality, a not very comfortable combination. It also tries, not very successfully, to thumb its nose at romantic comedy conventions while also inhabiting them.


Much is promised by the prologue — a flashback of Amy and Kim as girls, as their dad, Gordon, tries to explain why he and their mother are getting a divorce. A brilliant bit of comedy writing and acting has Gordon (Colin Quinn) using the girls' dolls  to elucidate why “monogamy isn't realistic.” (“Let's say you could only play with one doll.”) The routine is hilarious, and if more of the movie were in this vein, it would be a winner.


There are other funny bits, such as Dave Attell as a smart-mouthed panhandler who teases Amy about her slutty ways and holds ever-changing cardboard signs saying things like “I Blame You” and “I Accept PayPal.” Hader, in a relatively straight romantic role, is likeable and charming, though the doctor's infatuation with the selfish, reckless Amy is a little hard to fathom.


Maybe the biggest surprise is the performance of LeBron James, who displays credible acting skills and good comedic timing. The movie's LeBron is surprisingly stingy for a multimillionaire basketball superstar (insisting on splitting a lunch check with Aaron); confesses to a devotion to “Downton Abbey”; touts the greatness of Cleveland; and dispenses tender romantic advice to Amy (“When you look at the clouds, do you see his face?”) The banter between Hader and LeBron is lightly funny, standard Apatow-style bromance stuff. LeBron not only acquits himself well for a non-actor, he actually outshines the movie's star. My companion and I laughed more at his scenes than at any of hers.


Yet the movie's scattershot humor results in more misses than hits. A parody of an independent movie Amy and her date go to see — a black-and-white Sundance sensation starring Daniel Radcliffe as “The Dogwalker” — is pointless and unfunny. (It's the kind of thing that Woody Allen would have done well.) The sex scenes, meant to be uproarious, are excruciating, particularly one involving an adolescent intern (Ezra Miller.) Schumer seems to like the idea of men having homosexual yearnings, and much of her humor centers around that theme (yawn). A romantic “intervention” — aimed at getting Aaron to reunite with Amy and featuring sports announcer Marv Albert and, for some reason, Matthew Broderick — is a joke that doesn't work at all.

Many of this overlong movie's plot elements stretch credulity or seem misjudged. Amy's problems appear to run deeper than a sudden housecleaning of bongs and liquor bottles can overcome. And, like so many unrealistic movie journalists, she easily sells her (awful-sounding) profile of Aaron to a major magazine (Vanity Fair) — to which I say, Riiight. A sudden lurch from raunchiness to sentimentality, culminating in a group hug with Amy and her sister's family, made me think wistfully of Larry David's proscription for Seinfeld: “No hugging, no learning.” And the aforementioned cheerleading dance sequence, which I will not describe except to say that I'm still trying to banish the memory.


Schumer is talented, but she has not mastered the art of screenwriting. Unlike some of her co-stars, and despite the encomiums of her mentor Apatow, she's not ready for prime time. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.




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