If you’re one of those internet people who are still unaccountably invested in the idea that Amy Schumer is an overrated hack of an obese racist, then Trainwreck, the new movie she wrote and stars in, is very bad news for you. It’s an intelligent, hilarious, subversive comedy that subverts the conventions of romcoms even as it delivers both rom and com. It’s also the best film work Judd Apatow has done since the success of his films The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up convinced him that his movies should be really long, not that funny, and ragingly narcissistic. But while his auteur shtick has suffered from the presence of too few cooks, Apatow has been doing incredible creative work as a producer and co-writer, coaxing astonishing work from a range of collaborators like Lena Dunham and Kristen Wiig. To that list we can now safely add Schumer, whose excellent stand-up and TV sketch stylings only hint at her capacity to sustain a commanding, well-modulated leading performance in a movie.
She plays Amy (perhaps not a massive stretch), a writer for a ghastly, three-notches-below-Maxim men’s magazine, who lives a shallow, hedonistic life, drinking and fucking everything and everyone she wants to while avoiding the complication of deeper involvement with anyone else. This has a lot to do with her father, who bailed on the family when she was very young. Then she meets a guy (Bill Hader) who is good, smart, nice, rich, substantial, and yet oddly fuckable who wants to settle down with her, and… you don’t need the Hubble telescope to see where this is going. But by inverting the gender roles (20 years ago, Hugh Jackman would have played the Amy Schumer part and Ashley Judd would have been Bill Hader) Trainwreck weirdly breathes life into the genre trappings it comments on. It’s not simply that Schumer’s character has the typical attributes of a dude—selfish, manipulative oral sex techniques, implausibly hot partners, unflinching appetite for alcohol and sex—it’s that the way the film enacts them makes you aware of how these films are typically built.
The gender stuff extends to the supporting cast, as well. LeBron James plays the zany BFF—Rosie O’Donnell to Hader’s Meg Ryan—with admirable ease. Another inspired choice is the casting of Colin Quinn as her father. He’s 56. She’s 34. It’s not that it isn’t biologically possible; it’s that if this were a regular movie, Schumer would likely be considered too old to play Quinn’s girlfriend.
But Trainwreck’s tricksiness would be unsatisfying if the film didn’t also get real. The scenes between Schumer and her stable younger sister (the massively talented Brie Larson) anchor the characters in a believably, insolubly complex relationship that provides a plausible backdrop for the high jinks that rightfully make up most of the film’s action. In a sense, the story is about the conflict between the shallow rewards of being selfish and the vulnerability involved in caring about other people. It’s not Anna Karenina, but it is human, which is more than you can say for most films. Or books. Or humans.
All the commentary would be enough to distinguish the film from most comedies, but that still wouldn’t necessarily make it good, or, more to the point pleasing. That’s down to Schumer herself, who apparently is still a polarizing figure. If you haven’t yet been convinced by the brilliant work she does on TV and stage, then this film might not do the trick either (although if it doesn’t, I can’t imagine what will—maybe if she wins the Tour de France?). For the rest of us, who continue to be impressed by the depths that lurk under what could have been a solid joketelling career, Trainwreck is a gift.