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Sunday, July 19, 2015


Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in TRAINWRECK
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
2015, 122 minutes
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, and some drug use

Review by Joshua Handler

Trainwreck had its world premiere last Tuesday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as the closing to their retrospective of Judd Apatow's work. The Film Society was kind enough to have me at this event to review the film. 

It's been a few years since Judd Apatow made a film, the last one being 2012's undisciplined, yet amusing This is 40. That film didn't have nearly the charm or hilarity of The 40 Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, two of the finest comedies of the past 15 years, but had the humane Apatow touch. With Trainwreck, Apatow is back, but this film isn't as much a showcase for him as it is his writer and star, Amy Schumer, who proves herself to be every bit the force of nature we all expected her to be on the big screen.

The film follows the exploits of Amy (Schumer), a sexpot who lives life caring more for herself than anyone else and falls for Aaron (Bill Hader), a sports doctor she's assigned to write a piece on for the magazine she works for.

Trainwreck works mostly because of Schumer. Her charisma, everyday-woman-that-you'd-see-walking-down-the-NYC-street charm, and perfect comedic timing make it a huge treat to watch. Her supporting cast isn't too horrible either, as it includes Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, and countless others. Schumer is extremely confident onscreen and with her delivery, most jokes land. So many jokes land hard that it becomes shocking when the occasional one doesn't. 

Schumer's screenplay, while in many ways conventional, is truly insightful about modern-day relationships and nails the details. She understands what it's like to be in a relationship now, and by honing in on people's quirks, mannerisms, and the like, she has created a comedy that feels authentic and honest. The film can be nasty and mean, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a huge heart beneath it. It's obvious that Schumer put her all into this screenplay. While her comedic writing skills are sharp, she's also quite good at drama, crafting a few genuinely touching scenes that take the movie from being an unusually good R-rated sex comedy to being a truly impressive overall film.

Apatow gives every member of his supporting cast the chance to shine. LeBron James is very funny and a surprisingly natural actor. Colin Quinn gives a hilarious performance as Amy's father, Gordon. Brie Larson is touching as usual as Amy's sister. But, the MVP is Tilda Swinton in a role that can be compared to Tom Cruise's in Tropic Thunder. Swinton is unrecognizable as Amy's bitchy boss, Dianna, and shows once again that she is one of the finest actresses working today. In addition to being one of the most committed dramatic actresses out there, she's now proven herself to be an adept comedienne. 

As the male romantic lead, Bill Hader is warm, charming, and the perfect foil to Schumer. Hader and Schumer have great chemistry, which makes their romance completely believable. Hader has never been given the chance to be a romantic lead like this before, so this was a very risky casting decision, but he rises to the challenge, owning this character and giving the film a needed dose of sweetness.

Comedies now have become cold-hearted and mean. It's frequently refreshing to see a comedy that goes for a relentless and uncompromising approach, but what's disconcerting is the lack of respect and love for humanity that many of these films have. Judd Apatow has a love for humanity that shows through all of the crude sex jokes. His films are inherently warm and good-hearted. Amy is a flawed woman. Most other movies would make her the butt of every joke to make chastise her character for living the kind of life that she does. Instead, Apatow acknowledges that Amy is flawed...and moves on. He doesn't care because he sees the good in her. Even Colin Quinn's character, Gordon, a womanizing misanthrope, is given the benefit of the doubt by Apatow. It's this love that would cause me to mention his name in the same sentence as Woody Allen and Billy Wilder. While those two are two of the greatest ever, I would say that Apatow is a modern-day Billy Wilder of sorts in terms of the humanity that he puts into his comedy and the distinct touch that he infuses it with.

It's often the case with comedies that cinematography is left to the side. Not with Trainwreck. Apatow wisely chose acclaimed cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Tiny Furniture) to serve as director of photography for the film. It appears that Lipes shot the film on 35mm film, making Trainwreck feel cinematic and rich. Many of the sight gags work brilliantly and many of the more emotional moments have great impact because of Lipes' particular attention to framing. Fun side note: in the scene when Schumer and John Cena go to the movie theater, a film Lipes directed and shot, Ballet 422, is on the marquee as a nod to him. The film was released earlier this year by Magnolia Pictures after premiering in April 2014 at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Overall, Trainwreck is a perfect marriage of director and writer/star. While too long and clichéd in the third act, the film is so much fun to watch and so consistently perceptive that the length and clichés become irrelevant. I've now seen Trainwreck three times, and each time I discover something new that I love or appreciate about it. Schumer is a unique comedic talent, and if this is any indication of what is to come, she's going to have a very long career.


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