‘Trainwreck’ Isn’t the Feminist Comedy of the Summer — and That’s Totally Fine


There are scenes in Trainwreck that have the feel of standalone sketches from star and screenwriter Amy Schumer’s feminist-inflected Comedy Central show. “Lad Mag Pitch Meeting,” for example, could be a YouTube hit to give “Last Fuckable Day” a run for its money; ditto for “Baby Shower Confessions,” an exchange that in fact bears a striking resemblance to Inside Amy Schumer stalwarts like “I’m So Bad.”

But while Trainwreck is unmistakably a product of Schumer’s distinct sensibility, the Judd Apatow-directed film filters her voice through a template as recognizable as it is generic: the Big Studio Rom-Com. More specifically, a Judd Apatow Rom-Com — a genre that, a decade into its existence, has matured from an aberration in the tradition of (Man-)Boy Meets Girl into a fully developed subspecies of same.

Trainwreck follows Amy Schumer Townshend, a staff writer at a magazine whose institutional voice seems to be “overcompensating for Maxim and Playboy‘s feminist makeovers with gusto — and without shame.” Assigned by her editor (Tilda Swinton, unrecognizable beneath several layers of eyeliner) to profile sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), Amy finds herself giving up her strict one-night, no-sleepover policy in favor of a committed relationship and all the emotional risks it entails.

Amy’s family provides Trainwreck‘s B-plot, along with its supporting cast. Younger sister Kim (Brie Larson, though Schumer’s actual sister Kim Caramele shows up for a cameo), having married a nice Mike Birbiglia and started a family, serves as a foil, while dad Gordon (Colin Quinn) quite literally taught Amy her ways; that “monogamy isn’t realistic” scene from the trailer plays funnier, and harsher, when it includes Quinn explaining divorce and infidelity with children’s dolls.

Gordon’s MS forces Kim and Amy to shell out for an expensive nursing home, and the ensuing tensions provide the majority of Trainwreck‘s conflict, and fewer lighthearted moments, until the inevitable third-act fight between jaded Amy and earnest Aaron. The moments in between are sped along by more celebrity cameos than IMDb can fit on a single page and a script that is, no bones about it, riotously funny.

That script guarantees that, even if audiences can tell exactly where Trainwreck is headed, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable journey. And they definitely can tell: Amy may drink and sleep around more than the typical rom-com lead, but she’s still another female journalist who sleeps with her subject and lives in an apartment that’s got too many square feet and too few roommates to make any kind of real-world sense. And she may be a gender-bent version of the archetypal Apatow hero, but “the protagonist finally decides to grow up and commit in the last ten minutes” isn’t a spoiler to anyone who’s seen Knocked Up.

Here’s where Trainwreck might earn some backlash from Schumer’s increasingly vocal critics. “Serial dater gives up the single life for the joys of monogamy” is a well-worn trope for male characters; for female ones, it has a distinctly sex-negative feel, particularly since proudly unattached women are so rarely depicted, let alone celebrated, onscreen. A heartfelt exchange between Amy and Kim about their respective lifestyle choices feels particularly cringeworthy because of this, and when Amy gives up substances entirely, I found myself wondering why she had to go dry (and, uh, smoke-free) to prove herself worthy. Her sketch-show persona certainly doesn’t.

Ultimately, though, Schumer isn’t any more guilty than the heteronormative, slightly retrograde pool into which she’s dipping her toe. Trainwreck may not blow up rom-com clichés like last year’s critical darling Obvious Child, but Trainwreck also isn’t a directorial debut made on an indie budget. As the collaboration between two name-brand creators and Universal Pictures, it’s an attempt to establish both Schumer and Hader as believable, bankable romantic leads — one that stands a better-than-fair chance of succeeding.

A talent as charismatic, shrewd, and straight-up hilarious as Schumer getting movie-level exposure, not to mention movie-level money, is a good thing. And just as no male comedian is obligated to advance his gender every time he headlines a feature, Schumer should be free to make a charming, enjoyable entry into the summer box office race without making a Big Statement about abortion, double standards, or female friendship. Trainwreck makes us laugh, and that’s enough.

Trainwreck opens in wide release Friday.