Turning gender roles neatly on their heads, Amy Schumer has created a screwball comedy of considerable substance. Taking sure aim at the abomination of the formula rom-com, she satirizes not just the genre, but the state of contemporary single-hood. Starring in a script of her own devising, she is fearless, relentless, and completely unapologetic as the titular hot mess, also named Amy, with commitment issues and a healthy libido. She is also deliberate in her choice of targets. The vapid magazine editor (Tilda Swinton in chic drag), the airhead best friend at work, Nikki (Vanessa Bayer all teeth and unfortunate fashion choices), Steven, the hunk of a boyfriend (a formidably muscled John Cena) with killer glutes, and latent tendencies are signposts along the way of the hipster life that feeds on itself to no visible end. Most of all, she targets Amy herself, finding the essential absurdity of Amy’s drifting existence, extrapolating it to comedic heights as teeteringly high as the stillettos on which she stumbles home after yet another evening of debauchery. Is it a delicious metaphor that her best non-work friend, maybe best friend period, is the caustic homeless guy (David Atell) who lives outside her building? I think not. Make no mistake, Amy makes her behavior the eminently deserving butt of every joke, the embodiment of narcissism, saved from being totally unsympathetic because of the soft spot she has in her heart for her impossible father (Colin Quinn). And this is smart because when her moment of truth comes, she knows we need to be rooting for her.
She is also considerate enough to supply us with the surrogates onscreen to be appalled by her, topped by Jill (Brie Larson), Amy’s soccer mom sister, with an adorable if nerdy step-son, and what can only be characterized as a Stepford husband, all good cheer and upbeat attitude. Her interactions with them, her inability to stomach more than 10 seconds of father or son, strike keenly perceptive nerve, playing up Amy’s selfishness as well as the goofiness of nemeses that we ourselves might not pick as our first choice in family. It’s a virtuoso accomplishment.
Amy toils at a ne plus ultra cutting edge magazine called S’NUFF. Dedicated to the ugliest celebrity children under 6, where to self-pleasure oneself at the office, and otherwise tells the tragically hip modern young man how to think, live, dress, and, ahem, self-pleasure. With a virtual and perpetual eye-roll at her co-workers, she is in line for a promotion if she can deliver a story about New York City’s hottest sports doctor, Aaron (Bill Hader). The hot is his talent; the doctor himself is on the nebbishy side. He meets Amy’s bemusement about sports and his philanthropic pursuits with a cautionary befuddlement that eventually leads to coitus courtesy of Amy’s aggressive instigation after a wine-soaked dinner/interview. Before long, Aaron is in love with this fascinatingly unvarnished, uninhibited creature, and Amy is deeply unnerved to be reciprocating those feelings after a lifetime of never sleeping over with her one-night stands. Or Steven.
The film takes its time, thoroughly exploring Amy’s world, one fueled by sex, drugs, alcohol, and a carefully cultivate ennui. Her attempts to get her boyfriend to talk dirty to her in bed with hilariously off-putting results is the perfect preface to a later scene where he wants to get serious and she wants to end the conversation by walking away. A lunkhead he may be, but a sensitive one with feelings he is unashamed to express. By the time we get to the dishing session between Aaron and his pal, LeBron James (as a delightful version of himself), there is something so right about seeing them plot how to get Aaron’s relationship to the next level without seeming too desperate.
Hader, like all the men in the film, fulfill the chick component of the rom-com in bizarro world, and the combination of satire and wish-fulfillment is a powerful combination that never gets old because it’s never played for cheap laughs. Hader, in particular, maintains a careful edge of insouciant lunacy to his sweet vulnerability that makes him as interesting a character as Amy herself. He is also the bravest man in the world for being filmed playing one-on-one with LeBron during one of their dish-fests.
The potentially precious device of studding the with surreal cameos too good to give away is anything but is another example of the clever mind at work here toying with convention, as is the counter-intuitively heartwarming supporting performance by Quinn as Amy’s cantankerous, alcoholic, homophobic jerk of a father that makes clear why he is both impossible and Amy’s favorite person. Few could deliver the film’s scathingly brilliant opening monologue that has him explaining to his pre-teen daughters why he and their mother are divorcing by comparing monogamy to being able to play with only one doll forever and make it so poignant and ridiculous at the same time.
TRAINWRECK deconstructs the rom-com so thoroughly that you may never be able to see a romantic montage again without mocking it as deftly and as decisively as Schumer has done here. Unlike those films that trade on Cinderella complexes and airbrushed actors, TRAINWRECK dares to give the emotional stakes gritty urgency while never talking down to us, or showing bad faith to the characters involved. Funny, smart, and literate in a giddily profane way, it’s one of the best grown-up comedies in a very long time.