It’s not quite a Trainwreck, but it’s not a home-run either.
Amy Schumer is America’s latest ‘alternative’ golden girl. With a hit sketch comedy series on comedy central, her renowned stand-up skills and now Trainwreck (which she both wrote and stars in) she’s being placed in the ranks alongside Lena Dunham (creator, writer and star of Girls) and Mindy Kaling (creator and star of The Mindy Project) in terms of ‘funny women who have something to say.’ It’s a lazy way of grouping (that’s Hollywood for you) but it doesn’t make a degree of sense; with all three women writing and portraying characters who are more life ‘real-life’ with ‘real’ issues and ‘real’ coping mechanisms. It’s also applicable for the film in question, with Schumer consequently being lauded for greatness with the comedy schtick she displays here.
Amy (Amy Schumer, who has admitted the role is a more intense version of herself) and her younger sister Kim (Brie Larson) are told by their father, from a young age that ‘monogamy doesn’t work. This why he and their mother are divorcing; explaining this to the girls using an analogy about dolls and would they really want to ‘only ever play with one doll their whole lives.’ It’s a clever and believable st-up, explaining adult Amy’s ‘promiscuous’ behaviour (let’s just ignore the loaded idea that such behaviour requires an explanation.) 23 year’s on from her dad’s announcement we are reintroduced to Amy who almost has sex with a guy she doesn’t really know, which goes less than smoothly before she ends feigning sleep. In a voice-over narration she pointedly informs us they we are not to feel sorry for her as she has a great job, a great apartment, great family and great friends. This is an aspect really emphasised within the trailers and promo, that Amy has a great life and doesn’t need a man.
However this is contradicted within 15 minutes when we enter her work place, a men’s magazine called S’Nuff. Her boss ( a near unrecognisable Tilda Swindon) is bold, brassy, frequently insulting and demanding. Yet it’s uncertain if we are actually meant to admire her, understanding that these traits are a unfortunate necessity to survive and succeed in the male-dominated industry that is journalism. What is most unsettling about Swindon’s presence her (she is fantastic nevertheless) is how media outlets have reacted to her appearance. She’s tanned, with blown out blonde hair, eyeliner and power suits. Many have been quick to say how ‘glamorous’ she looks, and with an unclear intention of whether she’s a caricature or a statement it’s unsettling as it’s almost saying that her over-the-top stylistics are an ideal whilst ignoring how immensely unlikeable her vulgar character is.
The film is also quick to point out that whilst Amy is having sex with multiple different partners, none of this sex is particularly enjoyable or fulfilling. In fact the sex scenes that the film shows (until she meets Bill Hader’s character) seem more endurance than anything else. Why have a film which makes such a big deal about how the main character is a free and single woman enjoying life, then reveal that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be? That’s the most difficult aspect of the film, and one which is confusing when considering the advertising and how this film is reflecting modern women. Is the film saying that any women who have a lifestyle like Amy’s and who believe they are enjoying it, are actually in denial and in desperate need of monogamy to ‘fix’ their lives and impose a traditional lifestyle? In fact this film could, depressingly, easily be read as an attack of post-feminism and an assertion of conservattist attitudes on ‘deviant’ women. Because, aside from some of the over-the-top set pieces (director Judd Apatow’s specialty), this film really is nothing more than a conventional romantic comedy. (Possible spoiler alert if you have never seen a romantic comedy.) Single girl thinks she has a good life, meets a ‘nice’ guy and learns the error of their ways. Then things go wrong, they break up and then she wins him back with a romantic gesture. There is nothing unconventional about that narrative (which at 2 hours running time really drags!) Nor is their anything unconventional about the jokes or humour, with a hit’n’miss joke rate of 3 misses to every one hit.
So why exactly is this film being heralded for being so ‘refreshing’? Because the reviews writing about it have never actually heard a typical conversation had by a group of women? Because a female character in a film got to say things that Seth Rogen has been saying on screen for decades? Or because cinematic gems from last year*, with slightly more original narratives and a refreshing look at female characters. went mostly unseen last year due to limited releases? Whilst Trainwreck is reasonably funny and entertaining, and would be an adequate movie to watch with friends and accompanied with alcohol, it’s merely a frequently used story with fancy accessories to repackage it.
- *The Obvious Child
- * In A World…
- *Appropriate Behaviour