Romantic comedies have been out of fashion for years – at least in the traditional sense. The genre’s success stories in recent years have come from films that tweak (subtly or not) genre conventions. That brings us to the latest film to join the nonconventional romantic comedy pack, Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck. Marking Schumer’s first major film work and Apatow’s first time directing a film he didn’t also write, romance may not be what fans of either will expect going in, but that’s exactly what Trainwreck provides.
Similarly to many of her sketches on Inside Amy Schumer, Schumer plays a character named Amy. This Amy lives in New York as a writer for a men’s magazine called S’Nuff, and thanks in part to some advice offered by her father (Colin Quinn) as a child, she views monogamy as unrealistic. She goes through a string of one-night stands, while casually dating a guy who’s buff but dim (John Cena). Amy’s world is shaken, though, when she meets Aaron (Bill Hader), a surgeon for superstar athletes, and they end up making their way through several dates.
One of the standard ideas in romantic comedies is building some sort of obstacle that challenges the couple’s long-term viability. There’s a fine balance that’s required: make the obstacle sizable enough to be legitimate, but not so big that it becomes unrealistic. Here, the obstacles come from Amy: her commitment issues are obvious, as are her dependence on alcohol and general lack of empathy. Amy is more than a series of hilarious one-liners; there’s a serious bite to Amy’s asides that paint her as petty and mean. And while Aaron is the more stable of the two, he’s not exactly perfect either. His attempts to create a “normal” relationship with Amy are sweet, but ill-considered.
While Amy’s romance with Aaron dominates the film, Trainwreck does provide glimpses into each of their lives away from each other. Amy’s work at S’Nuff finds her in a place where supposedly man-friendly articles like “Ugliest Celebrity Kids Under 6” and “You’re Not Gay, She’s Just Terrible” are considered good ideas. Her boss, Dianna (Tilda Swinton!) lords over an office that is competitive but friendly in a vague way. Amy’s life is peppered with enough people to fill in the comedic cameos typically found in an Apatow film, with only Brie Larson having enough material (as Amy’s younger sister) to create a substantial character of her own. Aaron, meanwhile, finds himself opposite plenty of real-life athletes, with LeBron James playing himself as Aaron’s best friend.
Given Schumer’s background, and even Apatow’s, viewers might expect more comedy. Surprisingly, though, Trainwreck doesn’t really rely laugh-heavy moments, though there are plenty of moments that (judging by the audience I viewed the film with) will find the audience laughing a few seconds later, as the quick one-liners register. Instead, Trainwreck works more on the romantic front, infusing the comedy with real, human feelings. It’s a pleasant surprise, and a solid debut from Schumer.