Fuse Film Review: In “Trainwreck,” Comedienne Amy Schumer Tells it Like it Is

Director Judd Apatow has done a great job translating Amy Schumer’s humor and salty/sweet persona to the screen in Trainwreck.

Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow. At the Somerville Theatre and other cinemas around New England.

Amy Schumer in "Trainwreck"

Amy Schumer in “Trainwreck”

By Tim Jackson

We’re a long way from Mae West thrusting her sexually rapacious figure onto the screen only to have her act be toned down by Hollywood censors. Like the zaftig West, comic actress Amy Schumer’s persona is audacious, hard-drinking, and outspoken. Yet even as she delivers an endless (and cutting) catalogue of off-hand thoughts on female sexuality and male posturing, Schumer disarms us with her charm and ingenuous delivery. Director Judd Apatow has done a great job translating her humor and salty/sweet image to the screen in Trainwreck. In the film, Schumer plays Amy, a writer for a sensationalist New York Magazine called S’nuff operating under an annoying and coiffed British editor named Dianna (Tilda Swinton in yet another hideous wig). Amy sits through meetings in which employees pitch the most hysterical and god-awful ideas for stories.

Her fellow scribes soon discover not only is Amy not a sports fan, but she knows nothing and cares nothing whatsoever about sports. That reduces the room to a stunned silence. (“Why are all those men wearing other men’s names on Jerseys? Are they saying they’re his bitch?”) Once she skewered the national obsession with sports and its heroes Schumer had me in her pocket. Naturally she is assigned to write about athletes. Specifically, she is sent to do a profile of Dr. Aaron Conners (another nuanced comic performance from Bill Hader), a famous sports doctor whose best friend happens to be LeBron James. Obviously, she has never heard of him.

‘You know about sports’ he asks.
‘Name a team’
‘Uh, the Orlando . . . Blooms?’

Amy tries to overcome her commitment phobia and begins to fall in love with the laid-back Dr Connors. Her most recent relationship, like her many others, did not work out. John Cena plays the overly muscled former boyfriend with a tendency for indulging in sports metaphors during lovemaking and for making homoerotic references and insults. In the first 15 minutes, just as the film is getting going, it gently skewers a number of male obsessions. Then it moves unto humorous considerations of Alzheimer’s, parent relationships, public image, step-children, and lots of frank displays of dauntless female sexuality.

The brilliant sketches from Schumer’s TV show are template for this movie. Unlike such bold female comedians as Moms Mabley, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Sandra Bernhard, Sara Silverman, and Margaret Cho, Schumer never appears to be trying to shock — she just casually blasts away. She comes off as self-effacing, but she knows she is channeling scathing observations that women only share with her best friends. She breaches the walls of male privilege by puncturing macho vanity, ego, and camaraderie. Sports are the perfect subject for her wit. Knowing and caring nothing about organized sports, Amy tries to understand its relevance. She also just wants to have a good time. Amy wants to sleep around, feel sexy, and enjoy her drinks; she also wants to understand her unsupportive father (Colin Quinn). She’s more Jenny Slate than Chelsea Handler. Schumer’s open face, ferret eyes, and little rabbit teeth give her a guileless look, which makes the zingers that come out of her mouth all the more stinging. She wants to please others, but the social constraints on what women are allowed to talk about are anathema, lines begging to be crossed. Amy is an unstoppable force of honesty — she says these things not to disturb, but because she has to. Somebody has to. Her sister, as played with charm and patience by Brie Larson, is poised to weather the next awkward and socially inappropriate statement.

This past year Schumer’s presence has exploded with appearances on talk shows, social media, and in stand-up comedy. Apatow, who saw in Lena Dunham the potential to speak for a certain women’s demographic, has made a terrific comedy out of Schumer’s set-piece observational humor. Her take on American black-white relationships is forthright; her honest thinking on race could help normalize perceptions. Her preoccupation with sex is what we deserve in a culture obsessed with it. To its credit, the film avoids Schumer’s self-deprecating routines about her weight and fleshy blond looks. Instead, her character is sexy and empowered. Like the most influential contemporary comediennes, such Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, and Amy Sedaris, Schumer’s humor, at its best, combines intelligence with more than a little vulnerability. Her movie is funny and her comedy is inspiring. And despite what Schumer declares in her stand-up, she is also very sexy.

Tim Jackson is an assistant professor at the New England Institute of Art in the Digital Film and Video Department. His music career in Boston began in the 1970s and includes some 20 groups, many recordings, national and international tours, and contributions to film soundtracks. He studied theater and English as an undergraduate and has also has worked helter skelter as an actor and member of SAG and AFTRA since the 1980s. He has directed a trio of documentaries: Chaos and Order: Making American Theater about the American Repertory Theater, and Radical Jesters, which profiles the practices of 11 interventionist artists and agit-prop performance groups. His third documentary, When Things Go Wrong, about the Boston singer/songwriter Robin Lane, with whom he has worked for 30 years, has just been completed. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. You can read more of his work on his blog.

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