‘Trainwreck’ and feminist quandaries

17 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amy Schumer had to recruit pitying strangers to zip her dress.

One of the fascinating things about watching “Trainwreck,” Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow’s movie about a magazine journalist named Amy (Schumer) who falls for Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a sports doctor she is profiling for her employers at the hilariously named S’nuff Magazine, is the extent to which the gender polarity of dating has been radically reversed: The men are highly emotional, craving commitment, fidelity and connection, while the women just want to have sex and go home alone. NEW YORK, NY – JULY 14: Actors Bill Hader and Amy Schumer attend the ‘Trainwreck’ New York Premiere at Alice Tully Hall on July 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images) Judd Apatow, the writer, producer, and director of influential comedies for screens big and small over the last couple decades – with such films as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, and This is 40 — has introduced more than his share of major comic talents to the movie audience.Amy Schumer just earned an impressive number of Emmy nominations for Inside Amy Schumer, but her comedy is actually pretty true to her life, she told Seth Meyers on Thursday’s Late Night. “It is pretty much the real me,” she said, and that can lead to some pretty embarrassing situations. Oli (Josh Segarra), a hookup who takes Amy home to his “Scarface”-poster-adorned room in Staten Island, lets her sleep in so he can cook her breakfast. Her serial womanizing father’s mantra, “Monogamy isn’t realistic,” made an impression and she has grown into a promiscuous woman whose main relationship rule is “never stay over.” She’s inappropriate, sometimes cruel — “You are not nice,” says one ex — and occasionally clueless but nonetheless is handed a plum assignment by her editor (Tilda Swinton) to write an article on hotshot sports doctor Aaron Connors (Bill Hader).

Whether or not women can carry comedic roles or hold their own in the stand-up circuit has been proven long before writers/actors/producers like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and Lena Dunham were steering this new wave of feminist-leaning comedy. The ones she recounted involved the fact that she lives by herself, and the standout story involves a dress. “I live alone, and I’m, like, super lonely,” Schumer began, flirting with the audience. Trainwreck seems to be Apatow’s attempt to bring Schumer’s unique comic voice, with its it’s-about-time commitment to gender reversal, to the big screen, with Apatow’s own comedic stamp present but blended into the background.

The other night, she said, she was trying to zip up a dress — “I’ve, like, gained weight, and I was, like, kind of lying to myself” — but she was determined so she went down to the street and had to “just wait for somebody that looked like they weren’t, like, a monster.” The women she found, Schumer said, cheerfully recognized her: “‘Amy Schumer,’ she said. ‘Oh, you really are, like, sad and lonely.'” It got worse when they needed to recruit a second passerby. Their relationship blooms until she allows self-doubt — Why would this guy want to go out with me? — to get in the way of enjoying a happy, functional relationship. Same goes for the tiresome, offensive question, “Are women funny?” Which, with the release of “Trainwreck,” written by and starring Amy Schumer, is certainly going to crop up, along with articles about how she’s not super-skinny and think pieces with titles like “The Surprising F—ability of Amy Schumer.” The national discussion about the ratio and relationship of humor to genitals always seems to resume whenever a comedy that focuses on one or more women hits the box office. Amy, by contrast, is a sexual swashbuckler, a player whose primary goals are to maximize her pleasure and to minimize her emotional involvement (and by extension, discomfort) — a way of life that she’s inherited from her father, a charming but toxic man played by Colin Quinn. Subplots about Amy’s ailing father (Colin Quinn), her sister’s (Brie Larson) suburban life and LeBron James’s cheapness — “I don’t want to end up like MC Hammer!” — are woven into the fabric, but the heart of the tale is about Amy and Aaron.

Directed by Judd Apatow and written by Schumer, Trainwreck follows Amy (Schumer), “a modern chick who does what she wants”—which, as it happens, is often drinking, smoking pot, and juggling a tattered Rolodex of men. Basketball superstar LeBron James plays himself in a supporting role that is much more than a cameo and will raise a few eyebrows on folks who thought all he was good at was basketball; if you saw him host Saturday Night Live, you knew otherwise. Their roles are flipped — she plays the traditionally male commitment-phobe role, while Aaron wants to settle down — but it is their chemistry that keeps us interested. She and her friend Nikki (Vanessa Bayer) are utterly baffled when Aaron actually calls her after she sleeps over at his apartment, pondering whether he’s sick, crazy or a stalker.

It’s a romantic comedy filtered through Schumer’s lens, with all the bloody tampon jokes, unapologetic sex scenes, and general hot messiness in tact. The spirited ensemble supporting cast includes Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Mike Birbiglia, Vanessa Bayer, John Cena, Marisa Tomei, Leslie Jones, Matthew Broderick as himself, Daniel Radcliffe, Jim Norton, Method Man, Norman Lloyd, and Barkhad Abdi, Jon Glaser, and sportscaster Marv Albert. What’s been expected of romantic comedies of late is turned on its head in Trainwreck: It’s the woman who’s avoiding commitment and the man who’s yearning for stability. “A lot of people have asked me if I intended to kind of flip the gender roles like I’m playing the guy, and that’s not been my experience at all,” Schumer said in a press conference for the film. “This is how I am and how a lot of girls are where the guy ends up being a little more sensitive and more invested.” After a dismal slump in the early 2000s for romantic comedies, Trainwreck could be what’s needed for the genre to get back on track—this time, with women controlling the narrative. Although Apatow rightfully concentrates on his two leads, he, aided by Schumer’s funny, poignant, and perceptive debut screenplay, allows most of his supporting players moments, or even full scenes, in which to shine, especially – who knew they could play comedy so adroitly? – B-baller James, wrestler Cena, and ex-SNL newsdesk jockey Quinn.

But there is something queasy about the way Amy’s meanness, emotional unavailability, drug and alcohol use, and extravagant enjoyment of sex are all tangled up in each other. Not only is it glaringly obvious that sandwiches are a matter of personal taste, it’s very clear that anyone who gives a resounding “no” to “Are sandwiches yummy?” has a problem with the entire category of sandwiches and therefore isn’t really qualified to give an opinion anyway.

Among his other directorial gifts, Apatow sure knows how to get strong, unself-conscious work from a number of folks not known primarily as comedic actors. It’s not as if Amy is Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) in “Knocked Up”: Smoking pot hasn’t exactly prevented her from becoming the kind of writer who can plausibly pitch to Vanity Fair.

It wasn’t too long ago that interrogative headlines to the tune of “Who Killed the Romantic Comedy?” “Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad?” and “Have Romantic Comedies Fallen on Hard Times?” dominated the genre’s narrative. As for the endearing Schumer, whom we already knew was funny and blessed with superb comic timing, she’s also a natural screen actress who can deliver the emotional truth of a moment or situation, and Hader – whom we also already knew was funny — demonstrates easily that his stellar dramatic work in The Skeleton Twins was no fluke. And while her sexual adventurousness may have to take a different form in a monogamous relationship, Amy’s status as a seductress is the whole reason she and Aaron got together in the first place — he certainly wasn’t going to make the first move. We can discuss if we think Schumer is funny, or Sarah Silverman or Jessica Williams or Ellen Degeneres or Tig Notaro or Constance Wu or Chelsea Handler or Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer or Lena Dunham. (Yes, no, yes, was once, yes, GOD yes, doesn’t do much for me, yes-yes, and I don’t have HBO so I don’t know.

But to understand what Trainwreck could signal for films to come, it’s important to look at its unlikely romantic comedy predecessor: the bromantic comedy. Taken together, the way “Trainwreck” flips the gender script on dating and Amy’s arc pose — but perhaps wisely don’t really attempt to answer — an uneasy question about feminism’s goals.

The basketball superstar is the film’s unexpected secret weapon, delivering lines like, “Do you see his face when you look into clouds?” with the ease of a seasoned comic. “Trainwreck” is complex and laugh out loud funny — you’ll likely miss some of the best lines because you’ll be laughing so hard — not a mix you get in many rom coms. It’s one thing for women (and people of color and LGBT people) to have the same opportunities and second chances that have for so long been the sole property of white men. Featuring edgy, interesting performances from its leads and supporting cast — especially Colin Quinn and Tilda Swinton — it is an auspicious big screen debut for Schumer and is Apatow’s most focused and interesting film to date.

But that’s not quite the same thing as arguing that to be liberated, women ought to act just like a certain type of man: that we should have a large number of sexual partners; that we should avoid emotional attachment; that we should train with the explicit goal of improving our tolerance for alcohol and drugs. Even though they fall in step with what Jeffers-McDonald refers to as a humorous quest for love, the “romantic” gets dropped, leaving only the broader genre of “comedy.” This isn’t a quibble over semantics—it highlights the harmful delineations that ghettoize female-driven comedies. “Genres like the romantic comedy are among those that get the least respect,” says Alberti. “In some way they’ve been trivialized because they seem to be about women’s concerns. That argument, as Amy (Rosamund Pike) argued in “Gone Girl,” has a handy way of making life more fun for a certain class of men. “Trainwreck” doesn’t make what might have been an ugly move of suggesting that Amy was deluded about the fun she was having, or that she was holding herself back from a meaningful connection with a great man. “Why do I feel like this? I’m so scared,” Amy tells her sister Kim (Brie Larson, perfection as always) after she’s been dating Aaron for a while. “Because you’ve always dated dummies,” Kim tells her tartly — and accurately. This idea now extends to the tagline for Trainwreck posters and billboard: “We all know one.” In other words: It’s okay, dudes, this flick’s for you, too.

But the movie doesn’t also doesn’t suggest that her transition from wanting one thing to something else happens without elements of shame and pain. Moreover, Apatow’s bromances were effectively a warm-up act to what’s widely regarded as the first film of the feminist comedy new wave: Bridesmaids. Did they talk to Scorsese like, ‘Oh, careful there, Marty—you’re making too many good movies with guys in them’?” The commercial and critical success of Bridesmaids has given other writers and directors like Leslye Headland the opportunity to get their projects off the ground.

But for someone like me, it sort of is,” she says. “It’s like, Oh my god, I’m going to have a career now.” And it’s that kind of optimism that speaks directly to the one niggling factor behind women reclaiming the romantic comedy: The film industry is still overwhelmingly driven by men. Why would you want anybody in your life to be anything other than fully rounded?” If you’re familiar with Schumer’s stand-up routines, then you already have a sense of what you can expect from Trainwreck. During a simple game of going around the circle and revealing a secret, Amy manages to decimate the party with her recounting a round of particularly zesty sex when a condom got stuck to her cervix and she had to use her finger to fish it out.

That’s what feels relatable about Trainwreck: Schumer isn’t guessing how her character might act, she knows how she’ll act because she’s been there herself. “Amy is definitely a person who her stand-up act is built on speaking up and calling bullshit on certain aspects of our culture,” says Barry Mendel, coproducer of Trainwreck. “She’s somebody who’s going to shine a light on things she thinks are unjust or silly, and I think the movie is an extension of what she’s doing on her show, and her show is an extension of what she’s done in her act—it’s a very consistent throughline.” It’s a throughline that hits with men and women but, like a flip of Apatow’s bromantic comedies, it’s women, Mendel says, who have had the strongest response. “We’ve seen the movie a half dozen times and there’s a way in which guys enjoy it and think it’s really funny in a way where we’re kind of ashamed of ourselves,” he says. “But there’s a look that women get in their eye when they see [Schumer] do her thing, which is more of like a look you see in an Evangelical church where it’s just like, “Yes! With films like Trainwreck and Headland’s Sleeping With Other People, the genre is getting a reboot that feels more current and in line with modern relationships.

Here you can write a commentary on the recording "‘Trainwreck’ and feminist quandaries".

* Required fields
Twitter-news
Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site