Scripted by and starring the comedian, the movie has been sold as a film about a young woman named Amy (played by Schumer) who's unafraid to separate romance from monogamy and live without paying mind to the penalties and scolding that society is ready to dole out. The film's posters and trailers suggest the film is an enthusiastic look at this woman's shockingly messy life, inviting us to bear witness as it careens out of control without apology and possibly finds its own path to a happily ever after.
But that's not at all what Trainwreck is or what it wants to be. At its core, the movie is same type of romantic comedy we thought it might subvert.
"What’s wrong with you that you would want to go out with me?" Amy asks Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), the object of her affection and Trainwreck's terminal destination. The true answer is "nothing," of course, and once Amy and Aaron are a pair, there's no issue they can't fix. Ultimately, the movie's most lustful fantasy involves a healthy, sober life in the suburbs and toy sailboats on a pond.
This sense of safety and conventionality becomes Trainwreck's most surprising element.
The film doesn't contain the kind of writing from Schumer that we're familiar with from her Comedy Central TV series, Inside Amy Schumer, or her standup routines. It doesn't star the same Schumer character we're used to seeing in most of her work. While there are flashes of the clever satire and dazzling raunch that has made Schumer a star — Tilda Swinton's fantastic turn as a maniacal men's magazine editor is a highlight — as a whole, Trainwreck is glossier, sweeter, and a bit more self-conscious than Schumer's typical material. How much of that is owed to director Judd Apatow is debatable.
But even though Trainwreck is a rom-com that's seemingly at odds with its poster girl's persona, it still succeeds — there's just never any danger of it actually going off the rails.
Trainwreck has a boring sense of what healthy lives look like
For large swaths of the movie, Trainwreck operates like a satire, a poke aimed at films like The Devil Wears Prada, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and anything Katherine Heigl has ever been in. Like many heroines of mid-2000s rom-coms, Amy works at a magazine and lives in New York City, where she inhabits an illogically spacious apartment. But the men's magazine in question is S'Nuff, which publishes articles like "Ugliest Celebrity Kids Under 6" and "You’re Not Gay, She’s Boring"; Amy's apartment easily starts to feel claustrophobic once you see Amy and Aaron try to share the space; and even though Amy resides in a city of millions, her only true friend is the homeless man outside her building.
To navigate this less-than-ideal scenario, she lets off steam the way guys in Apatow's bromedies usually do. She drinks, she has casual sex (but never spends the night), she smokes pot, and she sometimes goes to the movies with her semifreddo boyfriend Steven (played by the fantastic John Cena). This all runs against the grain of her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson), who has set up shop with her husband — a crewneck sweater that's taken human form — and sensitive stepson in the suburbs. And Amy feels fine about her place in all of this until she meets Dr. Conners, the subject of a hit piece she's been commissioned to write.
The easy joke here is to paint Kim's life as bleak, and Schumer mercilessly goes for it — needling Kim about the lack of sex and fun she's having. Everyone in the city knows someone who's living Kim's life in the 'burbs. But Schumer points the sword at Amy, too, spearing the idea that the city will make your dreams come true.
But not everything in Trainwreck feels like satire. The back stretch of the movie skews saccharine.
Slowly and slyly, the movie begins to reveal that Kim's life with kids isn't actually the hell we think it is, until Amy starts realizing — in large part due to a monogamous relationship with Aaron — that this is what she wants and that she'll have to clean up her life to get it to this point.
That message — that true love is better than a life alone — isn't necessarily wrong, but it's at odds with the Schumer we know. For fans of Schumer's wit and comedy, this is a bit of a letdown.
What makes Schumer special is that she isn't afraid of pointing fingers at everyone when she's making her points about sexism, or sex, or the sexism of sex. But in Trainwreck, there are multiple times when the dust settles with everyone pointing their fingers at Amy.
Schumer's star has grown because she's more progressive than this. She's willing to punch up at the way women are pigeonholed by society, how their looks are picked over again and again, and how women are taught to be their own worst enemies. Making these two women's lives — the messy floozy or the earnest housewife — the only options in the movie (with Kim's being the better option), and making Amy choose, is limiting and sounds like something Schumer would rage against rather than write.
It's impossible to watch Trainwreck and not think of Schumer's pricklier work, which is unfair. By a lot of standards, what Schumer is writing and acting through — the ways men are objectified, the sex-positive moments, the physical comedy — here is more progressive than what we've seen from romantic comedy genre, but it pales in comparison to what we expect and what fans would want out of Schumer.
But Trainwreck is still ridiculously funny
While the politics of Trainwreck are endlessly debatable, the quality of humor that its supporting cast possesses is not. This film was incredibly cast, and Schumer gives them — yes, LeBron James is very good — plenty to work with.
Tilda Swinton is marvelous as Amy's demonic editor Dianna. Dianna is a tweak on Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, more Devil, less Prada. Swinton is barely recognizable under the patina of a glimmering spray tan, and really leans into her shallow taskmaster character. And Amy's coworkers at S'Nuff Nikki (Vanessa Bayer), Bryson (Randall Park), and Schultz (Jon Glaser) are an affable rogues' gallery of every terrible person you've ever shared an office with — which allows Swinton to shine even brighter.
The closer you get to Amy's family, the darker the stories get. Her father, Gordon (Colin Quinn), is suffering from multiple sclerosis, but is still the casually racist asshole who cheated on Amy's mother and told his daughters not to believe in monogamy. It's tough stuff for Quinn, who handles the role with a special grace. Amy loves him, but is clear-eyed — as much as one can be with your dad — about his faults. Gordon's story is a bit rushed, but there's enough there to recognize that Schumer's humor can take us to sad, soulful places.
And while Schumer and Hader are disarming and fulfill their duties as our charming leads, it feels like Schumer was most comfortable when she wasn't writing for herself. Her comedy on Inside is wrapped around a buffoonish, disposable version of her. It's seppuku comedy, allowing her to call out racism, sexism, injustice, etc. by sacrificing herself. But Trainwreck's Amy is almost too close to the real Amy (Schumer's real-life dad is named Gordon and also has MS), and I wonder if that's part of the reason the best-written stuff in the movie is given to anyone who isn't Amy.
Ultimately, Trainwreck isn't what it was sold as. Schumer, at times, doesn't feel like the Schumer we think we know. And there are several points the movie sure as hell doesn't feel like the satire it wants to be. However, Trainwreck it isn't a disaster or an accident — it's anything and everything but.