Saturday, July 18, 2015

Love and Other Drugs: TRAINWRECK

Trainwreck is a sweet and salty romantic comedy loaded down with endless digressions, smirking vulgarity, stand-up dressed up as dialogue, and sudden dips into sentimental drama. If you think that sounds like a Judd Apatow picture, you’re exactly right, all the way down to the over-two-hours runtime. But here he’s working from a screenplay by Amy Schumer, who also stars. She brings her sense of tart gender politics and sly observational ear, as showcased in her hit-and-miss sketch show on Comedy Central, folding them into a movie that’s both unmistakable from her voice, and undeniably part of the Apatow approach. It starts with liberal raunch, and ends with conservative coupling, locates what it judges immaturity in its main character and finds reason to induce what it thinks is emotional growth. But at least the movie, which could easily fit into his man-child comedies’ tropes, follows a woman, and commits to telling a story from her perspective.

Schumer stars as a reporter for a magazine living a fun New York City life with lots of alcohol, pot, and a revolving door of quick relationships and one-night stands. Side-stepping the usual rom-com setup, she’s not exactly looking to settle down. Her latest sort-of-boyfriend was a hulking muscle man (John Cena) she never quite liked. So she’s as surprised as anyone else when she might actually love a sports’ doctor (Bill Hader) her editor (Tilda Swinton) has assigned her to interview. The following story finds Schumer and Hader cautiously moving toward a relationship, having fun hanging out, and eventually hitting every girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy beat you’d expect. But the melding of Schumer and Apatow’s comedic sensibilities makes the resulting film feel loose and shapeless, so that the big moments take a long time coming and approach from different angles, moments somehow fresh despite so retrospectively obvious.

Apatow has certainly never been a filmmaker who cuts out lengthy riffs or dawdling detours. (When it works best, like in his Funny People, there’s a fine lived-in quality.) And Schumer has never been a writer particular interested in holding back frank talk. (Her best sketches have a precise ear for unspoken assumptions.) Together, they find a nice groove, an appealingly shaggy amusement that’s always going where you suspect it is, but unhurried about getting there. This accommodates all sorts of digressions in a textured approach to what other films would play for easy shock humor or manipulative sentiment (although there’s that, too). Though Schumer and Hader have a warm, relaxed chemistry, which sells their rom-com paces, the film’s length and pokiness allows for a wider understanding of her character. We get just as much time with sneakily moving, and frankly more interesting, prickly relationships with her sick father (Colin Quinn) and married sister (Brie Larson).

Could every single scene be shorter, and cut more tightly? Yes. But then the movie would lose some of the rambling quality that drifts it away from formula and into its characters lives. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (HBO’s Girls) finds casual beauty to their New York existences, from spacious apartments to cramped subways, while the movie meanders along, exploring a deep bench of side characters, caricatures and cameos all. We meet a gaggle of magazine employees (Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Jon Glaser, and Ezra Miller), a senile elderly man (Norman Lloyd), a homeless guy (Dave Atell), suburbanites (including Mike Birbiglia, Tim Meadows, and Nikki Glaser), and LeBron James (as himself). They’re all mostly inessential to the overarching narrative (especially an even weirder batch of celebrity appearances near the end), but irreplaceable for the windows into Schumer and Hader’s lives outside the romantic comedy world in which they’re living.

Because this is a more expansive ramble than most comedies attempt, there’s small disappointment in finding it settle back into formulaic moments. But how often do you get to see a rom-com these days, especially one so intent on fully fleshing in its characters outside their interactions with each other? And rarer still are the movies told so persuasively from a woman’s point of view, placing an obvious and welcome focus on her pleasure, her opinions, and her complicated evolving decisions. (It also flips the usual romance gender dynamics, making her the commitment-phobe, and he the one ready to settle down.) There’s a sting of earnest truthfulness in Schumer’s framing of familial and romantic relationships, tired wisdom where people grow together or apart for understandable, relatable reasons instead of flailing sitcom misunderstanding. Here’s a movie broad enough to support goofy sex scenes and big silly behavior, while containing it within a believable emotional world. That it’s uneven comes with the territory.

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