Film Review: Trainwreck (USA, 2015)

Amy (Amy Schumer) is a writer for a men’s magazine, along with her friend Nikki (Vanessa Bayer). One morning, they sit in adjacent cubicles of their office bathroom, comparing Johnny Depp(s) from different films based on their fuckability. They aim for the funniest answers, such as: Edward Scissorhands (1990) because you’d always have a great haircut…

This is typical of Judd Apatow’s comedies – letting clever actors improvise lines around an idea. Remember “You know how I know you’re gay…?” That. And it is occasionally funny, but there is a difference between funny people and funny characters. The former toss quips at each other, inflating their egos and the movie’s running time. This may have been refreshingly conversational in The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), but it has become tiresome and snarky. Funny characters, on the other hand, are the butt of the joke, and are endlessly endearing because they put their pride on the line. Schumer does this brilliantly on her sketch show.   

Here, unfortunately, she spends much of her time riffing, notably on the state of her character’s sexual conquests. Until she is assigned to do a story on Aaron (Bill Hader), a well-established sports surgeon who teaches her how to love and be truly happy (because no one who doesn’t have kids and get married can be truly happy).

Aaron is so well established, in fact, that he has a rapport with Lebron James, one of the best basketballers since Michael Jordan. Though he doesn’t actually play himself, John Cena is highly self-referential in his role, showing off his extensive acting experience. Sports commentator Marv Albert also features – you may recognise his voice, if nothing else. Anyway, he’s in a scene with Matthew Broderick, the man who was Ferris Bueller a long, long time ago. Here, he is just Matthew Broderick.

Every time Apatow makes a film, there seem to be more celebrities playing themselves. That’s fine if you want your film to have the emotional weight of a SNL sketch. And it’s great for thinly veiled product placement, as when James hosts some kind of trampoline dunking exhibition. I think there are around 200 spectators in the scene, with enough corporate sponsorship for Madison Square Garden.

It also cheapens moments that are reaching for authenticity. In another context, Amy’s irreverent eulogy might have been very moving. Next to the incessant quips and boastful filmmaking, it is jarringly sappy. Worse, this scene does not exist for its emotional truth, but as a precursor for a flimsy conflict, which leads demurely into the final act. Sure, this is common scriptwriting convention, but noticing it is like watching a ventriloquist’s lips move.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)