Trainwreck (Universal Pictures, R)

trainwreck 75If you’re feeling patient and don’t mind a plot that’s predictable down to the last detail, Trainwreck is a pretty good option.

 

 

 

trainwreck 500I want to say that director Judd Apatow, whose last few films have been disappointments (This is 40, Funny People), is at least good at finding new talent. But, the talented stars in his recent films that have been “new” to me have not been new to people who watch more TV than I do. Most are at least semi-established in that medium and simply make the leap to cinema with Apatow’s guidance.

Of course the new Apatow film Trainwreck was written by and stars Amy Schumer, who is known for her increasing media saturation which started with the premiere of her show Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central back in 2013. Though aware of her existence, I had never had much exposure to Schumer, so in Trainwreck her presence and style of humor was mostly new to me.

At first I wasn’t impressed. As the film begins, we’re introduced to Schumer’s character, also named Amy, who relates her tendency to have lots of sex with different men, but never stay the night with any of them. I can appreciate the gender switch with the more common depiction of this kind of thing in Hollywood. But unfortunately I tend not to be amused by films about men who sleep with lots of different women and never stay the night, either. I should probably also mention that the character Amy is always fairly open about her tendency to have lots of sex, and neither the film nor the characters in it engage in any serious form of so-called slut-shaming, which is refreshing.

The movie picks up more as we see the day-to-day life of Amy’s job as a journalist for a men’s magazine called S’Nuff. Her boss is a nasty British woman named Dianna (a mostly-unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, which is funny). Her coworkers comprise a handful of the movie’s many scene-stealing supporting roles, chief among them being Randall Park (who was so good as Kim Jong-un in The Interview, and is also on ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat) and Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer.

From the point that we first go to Amy’s workplace, maybe ten minutes into the movie, it switches to where it’s very funny a good chunk of the time, but maybe one in three jokes or so fall completely flat. Not a bad average, but there’s room for improvement, right?

But the movie is nearly undone by a problem common to nearly all of the films Judd Apatow has directed—it’s way too long. Somewhere about an hour in, I stopped laughing altogether and just started getting angry, and stayed angry for the last 65 minutes, until the damned thing was finally over.

The main thrust of the movie, which isn’t introduced until a good half-hour in, is that Amy has to interview sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) for a piece for S’Nuff, and she sees his potential to be more than her usual one-night stand. Dr. Conners’ expertise also led to one aspect that quickly endeared me to Amy’s character—she hates sports, and anyone who likes sports. Any kind of sports at all.

But for someone who hates sports, there’s an awful lot of sports in this film. Amy’s pre-Dr. Conners boyfriend is played by the wrestler John Cena (very funny here). There’s also a bit of stunt casting in having LeBron James play himself, as a friend of Dr. Conners. James is ultimately fine in this role, but you can also tell that Apatow and his team had to work around him somewhat—there are a lot of cuts to b-roll or needless changes in angle when James is delivering more than one line of dialogue at a time.

Ultimately, Trainwreck is better than either This is 40 or Funny People, but that’s not exactly high praise. While Schumer displays some talent here both as a writer and as an actress, the film is ultimately saved by its supporting cast. Park and Bayer aside, the presence of Ezra Miller and Brie Larson is welcome in any film—I’d rank them among the two best young actors in Hollywood right now—and they turn up here as an intern at S’Nuff and as Amy’s little sister Kim, respectively. The most consistent source of laughs, though, is Dan Soder, an actor on Inside Amy Schumer, as a homeless guy who is usually stationed outside of Amy’s apartment.

So if you’re feeling patient and don’t mind a plot that’s predictable down to the last detail, Trainwreck is a pretty good option—it’s often very funny, and a good showcase for a lot of fresh young talent. But if your attention span is short or you’re looking for a film that is the quality of Apatow’s efforts from ten or so years ago—The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up—you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. | Pete Timmermann

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