Monday, August 24, 2015


Trainwreck may be the most frequently discussed film of my summer this far. Everyone seems to want to work on cultivating an opinion on it, everyone wants to establish whether or not they've seen it, but no one seems to stand on solid ground as to whether or not they found it truly successful.  Most seem to like the film, but with a caveat or vague sense of something they'd like to work out before making their final decision.  I know what they mean, I have reservations, too.  Trainwreck is a film that seems to demand a second viewing even before it even reaches its grand finale.  It's the type of movie with characters who may take a little while to love and with plot points that both hit their genre marks and yet actively comment on the fact of those existing tropes.  Those used to writer/star Amy Schumer's comic sensibilities should be used to this: she's one to walk the line while all the while pointing directly to it, a tactic that works well when pointing out industry misogyny or cultural double-standards, but which is somehow trickier when the goal seems to be writing an ideal rom com while also correcting the problems of that genre.  

The way I see it, the thing about the rom com is that we already know the fallacies and fantasies they work with because, in a way, we live with them.  They're something very different than other genres, because they apply more directly to the way we conduct our relationships and the wishes that we all secretly have.   So, we may talk about wanting to see the romantic comedy where everything falls apart, the "real" version where nothing works out, but when we're given that film, that critical decision that we think we want, how often do we like it?  How do we feel when our point of identification doesn't wind up in the position we want them to?  What I mean is: Annie Hall is the exception, not the rule. 

That's not to say that sometimes ending up happily single isn't the best ending for a film or the best development for a character, it certainly can be.  It's more to say that when you start building characters designed to circle one another, the universal want of the audience is -more often than not - a desire to keep those characters together in some way.  So it is that though Trainwreck brings the raunch, the smarts, and rounds out its characters, it can't escape the ebullient ending it's setting up.

Of course, (minor spoiler alert) for all the big talk from folks on the outside, it seems clear that Trainwreck opts not to engage in a full-on deconstruction of the genre. As it becomes involved with its characters, that proves not to be the goal.  This is, of course, in spite of the fact that along the way the film seems to gleefully engage in the tearing down of innumerable constructs: redefining the "space" of the career-oriented woman, dismantling the illusion of the publishing/writing/New York dream-job, rethinking the grey areas that come with entering into a partnership so that hurdles don't come across as black and white.  Part of this can be chalked up to the clever situations mapped out by Schumer, part of this can be chalked up to the fact director Judd Apatow is at the helm.  An Apatow movie is always pretty much a good 35 minutes longer than it should be, and in most cases - Funny People and This is 40 in particularthat seems to be because he can't stand to leave his characters at an impasse. He wants you to understand them, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to see them grow beyond the constructs they may at first appear to be.  This pairs unsurprisingly well with Schumer's sensibilities, and the collaboration is one in which director and writer seem equally committed to allowing the exploration of characters to lead to a fracturing of traditional genre tropes.

Basically: the more time Schumer has to color in her character the more we understand her as someone who is not - unlike so many rom com figures - on the verge of a quick change.  What happens isn't magical, what happens isn't a domestication of a "wild" woman, what happens, instead, is the series of considerations and adjustments people undergo when they decide they may want to start living their life alongside someone else.

The film is wildly successful in choosing scenes that illustrate the difficulties Schumer's character Amy has in adjusting the lifestyle she's grown accustomed to and in presenting the conflicts not solely as the result of her personal insensitivities, but also as the push-pull of past histories.  Amy here is someone who has lived according to standards pulled from the observation of her parents' relationship and the understanding of her own wants and desires.  When she meets Aaron (Bill Hader), the knowledge that she applies proves inoperable.  He's not the type she has traditionally gravitated towards, he already has a connection to her, and we watch as the way she believes relationships work conflicts and changes when matched with someone who has a very different understanding of what it is he wants.   It takes its time. It's a warts-and-all depiction of modern love, and - when you pull in the ever-charming Hader and a surprisingly winning performance from LeBron James - the bumps work in the film's favor.

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