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TRAINWRECK (2015) review

July 19, 2015

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written by: Amy Schumer
produced by: Judd Apatow & Barry Mendel
directed by: Judd Apatow
rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use)
runtime: 125 min.
U.S. release date: July 17, 2015

“Don’t try and spin this as a way to not go down on me as much, that’s ridiculous.”

 

When Judd Apatow came on the scene as a director with 2005’s “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” he very quickly established a loose, improvisational style which has come to dominate American comedy. It worked well for a grand total of two films, but “Why do one joke when you can cram in four or five?” has now become his de facto style, and it’s getting very, very tired. The prospect of him working for the first time from a script he did not write himself, therefore, held some promise for “Trainwreck,” a new comedy written by and starring Amy Schumer. The only real problem is that he basically ported over all of his worst tendencies into someone else’s film, and the once hilarious, never-ending riff has overtaken character and plot as the most important thing in his films.

This is not to say that “Trainwreck” is not without its charm, but it’s so formulaic that even when it does manage to subvert the standard rom-com formula, within the next few minutes it will work its way back on track and fall back on age-old conventions.

 

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Amy Schumer is a damn funny and talented woman, and her vibe of the laid back, cool girl – that another Amy so famously despised in “Gone Girl” – translates well to the big screen. It’s almost a bigger disappointment, then, when the film’s third act plays out in an almost identical fashion to just about every other romantic comedy one can think of, including the whole of Apatow’s filmography. I’m not sure whether Schumer was just afraid to go for it and say, screw these conventions, or if Apatow and the studio had a hand in guiding her back into well-worn territory, but the film ultimately suffers from a lack of landing a powerful blow to the genre’s many hackneyed tropes.

Schumer plays what I presume to be a thinly-veiled version of herself, a character also named Amy whose worldview was irrevocably shaped by a misanthropic father, played with great comedic gusto by Colin Quinn. Her commitment-phobic ways are challenged when she is forced by the men’s magazine for which she works to write a profile on sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), and the two end up falling for one another. The film then essentially becomes just another “thirty-something forced to deal with the previously suspended challenges of adulthood” film that is Apatow’s bread and butter. Again, none of this is necessarily bad or off-putting in any way, just more disappointing than anything else.

That the film works as well as it does is testament to Schumer’s ability to create compelling characters you don’t mind spending time with, and this commitment to character above all else is admirable for the bulk of the film’s running time. When that dreaded third act rom-com complication that ends the relationship arises, it’s all the more disappointing because of the film’s ability to zig when you think it’s going to zag. The third act plays out in identical fashion to every other similar film, and it’s borderline heartbreaking to see it do so.

 

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Nevertheless, the film has enough things working in its favor to be overall more enjoyable than not, there are just a number of decisions so boneheaded, they turn a film actually called “Trainwreck” into a well-oiled machine that pulls into every stop right on schedule.

The most glaring problem is that the film has a ton of hilarious and wonderful comedic actors at its disposal, from Jon Glaser and Dave Atell to Tim Meadows and Mike Birbiglia, and yet if you combined their total screen time, I’d be willing to be it’s less than half the screen time that professional basketball players LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire have. The joke that a well-respected sports doctor is best friends with LeBron James is perfectly funny by itself, but when long stretches of dialogue are given to professional athletes rather than professional actors and comedians is a lot like watching a celebrity softball game; the real fun is in waiting for them to mess up because they’re actually no good at something for which they weren’t trained.

Apatow also very desperately needs a better editor. The fact that this film has three credited editors came as a mild shock, especially when you look at the credits some of them have as editors. Nearly every single scene in the film could have stood to lose anywhere from 10-60 seconds because comedy just doesn’t sustain over the course of two hours.

 

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There was a time when comedy was sharp, smart, and tightly edited, but the Apatows and the Seth MacFarlanes of the world often have such a hard time reigning in their ideas and their performers, and their work suffers as a result. There’s a brilliant 100 minute comedy buried in “Trainwreck,” and with a third act revamp and some much tighter editing, it most assuredly could have gotten there. Instead we’re left with a film that runs 125 minutes, nearly a third of which are horribly unfocused.

Despite all of this, there is a lot to like about the film, and a lot of that has to do with the unbelievably good chemistry between Schumer and Hader, as well as Schumer and Brie Larson, as her younger sister. All of the scenes between these characters are fantastic, as are many other scenes involving some of the hilariously funny people I’ve already mentioned, it’s just that they’re buried inside this film with some truly cringe-worthy major supporting turns by pro athletes.

“Trainwreck” reeks a bit too much of a studio panicking that men might not want to watch it unless it has athletes or dick jokes in it, but the good stuff shines through it all. You won’t be upset or feel like you’ve wasted your time or money watching it, but don’t be surprised if you leave the theater wishing it had focused more on what it did really well.

 

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RATING: **1/2

 

 

 

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