When I heard there was a new comedy being released titled Trainwreck, I imagined a manically plotted farce with bad behavior covered up by lies that spawn more lies, each more preposterous than the one that preceded it, while identities are swapped with breakneck abandon until no one can keep track of the truth, the whole thing hurtling along of its own momentum until it finally careens off the rails and the truth is revealed, all of the plot lines colliding together with finality, the lead characters relatively intact, having suffered only a few scrapes and bruises, maybe a broken bone or two. Think The Importance of Being Earnest or practically any episode of Fawlty Towers. Unfortunately, Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer have imagined something entirely different that, to my taste, is much less satisfying—a relatively by-the-numbers romantic comedy about a profligate whose life bottoms out until she realizes that all she has been missing in her life is the right man.
Schumer, who also wrote the screenplay, plays Amy Townsend, a magazine writer who enjoys booze, pot, and sex, though not necessarily in that order. It is her sexual abandon that lands her in trouble with her current-boyfriend, a musclehead who, with several funny, off-hand (and off-color) comments, reveals that he may be a bit confused about his sexuality but isn’t smart enough to have realized it yet. At about the time their relationship mercifully ends, Amy finds herself assigned to write a story about sports doctor Aaron Conners, amiably played by Bill Hader. Despite her resistance to the assignment—Amy hates sports—Amy is charmed by Aaron and they go out on a date that eventually leads to a bout of tipsy sex. To Amy’s chagrin, Aaron takes this as a sign that she’s possibly interested in pursuing a relationship. Given the generic inevitably, it is hardly a spoiler to reveal that after blatantly ignoring what she knows in her heart to be true, Amy comes to discover that Aaron is the “Mr. Right” he has always appeared to be.
What makes Trainwreck’s adherence to the rom-com template so disappointing is that it is, often enough, quite funny. In the opening scene, for example, Amy’s father (Colin Quinn), using dolls as an analogy, explains to his young daughters why he and their mother are divorcing, simultaneously making clear that monogamy is not only a bore but is, in fact, ridiculous. Such an incisive prelude would be auspicious were it not meant to establish that some of Amy’s problems with commitment come from her complicated relationship with her father who, over the course of the film, suffers health problems resulting from multiple sclerorsis, sending him to an assisted living center. It’s a subplot that feels mawkish, especially given the bite of the film’s opening.
Amy’s musclehead boyfriend also has some hilariously inappropriate scenes, especially one that unfolds in a movie theater. And the moment when Aaron calls Amy the day after their first date, and she freaks out, thinking he must be mentally ill before confirming with a friend that he probably just butt-dialed her, allows for the possibility of Trainwreck to take the air out of a genre that has become tiresomely predictable.
But however subversive the humor in Trainwreck seems to be, it is safely contained by the movie’s plot. This is a trademark of Apatow’s movies, actually. They have never shied away from being raunchy—in the service of “truth telling,” it seems—but always end with an unhealthy dollop of sentimentality. In interviews, Apatow has expressed admiration for John Hughes’ movies, and in their tendency toward the saccharine, it shows. Hughes undercut his sometimes tasteless cynicism with a warmheartedness that became treacle by the end of his career, revealing the cruelty at the heart of his more shocking jokes.
Apatow and Schumer are never cruel, though perhaps they should have been. They come close in a scene involving an intern at Amy’s magazine but the scene is cut short before it gets too discomfiting. If that is supposed to be the moment when the wreck occurs, then we are rerouted before we can crane our necks and glimpse the something we think we don’t really want to see, much as Hollywood has done with the cruel demands of truly memorable comedy.