SXSW 2015 Review: ‘Trainwreck’ Narrowly Avoids Disaster
[Trainwreck premiered at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival as a “work in progress.” This review will be updated if the final version – to be released on July 17, 2015 – arrives in a different form.]
Reports of the romantic comedy’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Following on the heels of Leslye Headland’s absolutely exceptional Sleeping with Other People, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, comes Trainwreck, starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader as perfectly funny people in a situation we’ve more or less seen a million times. They’re mismatched, but they’ll probably wind up together at the end.
And that’s just great. Nobody goes to a romantic comedy to have their whole world turned upside down, but Amy Schumer, who also wrote the screenplay, seems eager to tilt the axis a little bit. Trainwreck stars Schumer as a woman named Amy (appropriately enough), who like many romantic comedy protagonists works at a magazine and falls for a guy that she’s writing about, a sports doctor played by Hader (who isn’t playing a character named Bill). But she’s a modern woman, a serial non-monogamist and a pot smoker, who sees no need to get trapped in a serious relationship.
But Hader’s character, Aaron, does. It’s a small and naive irony, but the twist in Trainwreck is that it’s the men who want romantic security and it’s the women who have no desire to get too attached. Aaron’s small circle of friends, which consists primarily of basketball star LeBron James (playing himself), want love and commitment and a future. Even John Cena, playing a character who is “hilariously” unaware of his own homosexuality (a joke that wears thin quickly), would rather settle down than use his muscles to sleep with everyone in sight.
Trainwreck comes courtesy of Judd Apatow, a filmmaker who lets his actors talk and talk, sometimes at the sacrifice of drama. And he falls prey to his own style once again here, letting his characters talk and talk for so long that you half expect the cast of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to interject and yell, “Get on with it!” The gag sometimes works – particularly a scene where Aaron and LeBron argue over whether they should split a check – but romantic comedies depend on forward momentum, just like relationships do, so although Apatow’s approach feels novel within this genre it frequently also gets in the way.
Amy Schumer is such a freaking charmer, however, that Trainwreck mostly works anyway. Her comic timing and finely honed persona works well in most situations, as already proven by Inside Amy Schumer, and her uniquely self-effacing confidence is absolutely appropriate for a rom-com. She’s perfectly miscast, exactly the wrong person to put in a saccharine situation, allowing Trainwreck to feel fresh even as it wallows in familiarity.
But although Hader is an impressively romantic leading man – unexpectedly charismatic, charmingly dorky – the movie doesn’t quite know what to do with him. He’s a little too perfect, so when the time comes to pull our two lovers apart in the third act, Schumer has to do all the changing. It feels like Trainwreck has turned against its own heroine, because she’s the only one who needs to turn her life around in order to give the audience a happy ending. A limp attempt to convince Aaron that all their squabbling is at least partly his fault is stuffed with off-putting celebrity cameos that make no sense whatsoever, distracting the audience from any dramatic value the scene could have possibly had.
So Trainwreck isn’t perfect, but it’s hardly a… railway disaster. It’s a very funny film with memorable and unlikely comedic set-ups and supporting performances, particularly from LeBron James and Tilda Swinton, who steals many of her scenes as Schumer’s careless editor. It lacks the nuanced and clever plotting of a film like Sleeping with Other People, but it’s a perfectly functional adrenaline shot for the romantic comedy genre. Energetic and amusing, and probably just the kind of movie that audiences need to remind them that funny movies about love can still actually be funny.