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It arrived in Austin with big expectations — and judging from an ecstatic reception at its packed South by Southwest world premiere, Trainwreck has turned out to be anything but.
The buzz outside the Paramount Theatre following the Sunday night screening of a “work in progress” print (it looked finished) was that Amy Schumer had established herself as a compelling new voice in mainstream film — and that director Judd Apatow had returned to form with the kind of big-hearted, broad-appeal comedy that made his name.
Apatow drew laughs from the start when he said he’d “rather talk about [Bill] Cosby for 15 minutes” than introduce his stars. (In recent months, Apatow has mounted a Twitter campaign against the embattled comedian.)
He then summoned Schumer onto the stage, who did an “awkward dance” at Apatow’s suggestion, followed by her co-stars Bill Hader and Vanessa Bayer, and Schumer’s sister, Kim Caramele, who produced the film and helped write the screenplay. Producer Barry Mandel also joined them.
The Universal comedy follows Amy, a writer at a New York-based lads’ magazine whose authoritarian editor-in-chief (Tilda Swinton, rendered nearly unrecognizable with a spray-tan and hair extensions) assigns her to report a story on a cutting-edge sports surgeon, played in the film by Hader.
Their instant chemistry throws a wrench into Amy’s self-destructive routine of getting wasted and sleeping around — a habit we find out early on she learned from her crabby but loveable dad (Colin Quinn). LeBron James, also making his film debut, steals scenes as deftly as he does basketballs, playing a penny-pinching version of himself who loves Downton Abbey. (And he’s not the only celebrity to play himself in the film.)
The film bears all the Apatow hallmarks: awkward sex scenes, fraught family dynamics, bromances, weed, astute observations on office politics and a frequently disarming poignancy. But it’s Schumer’s voice at work here, and the stand-up comic’s hilarious takes on everything from parenthood to cheerleading are what gives the film its uniquely modern point of view.
After the screening, a teary-eyed Schumer thanked the crowd for their enthusiasm before passing the microphone to Apatow. “I’m a little vulnerable,” she said. “I’m emotional. So Judd, what’s up?”
Apatow explained that it was an interview on The Howard Stern Show that first put Schumer on his radar. “I sat there in the parking lot listening to the whole thing because I didn’t want to miss it,” he said. “I thought she had stories to tell.”
That led to a meeting and one finished screenplay, but Apatow was having trouble connecting to the material. “I was proud of it,” Schumer said. “But [Judd] was really nice. And he was like, ‘Why don’t you write about what’s up?’ “
Schumer turned inward and began writing about her own relationship to her father, who developed multiple sclerosis when Schumer was 9 and lives in an assisted care facility. The same happens to her onscreen father. “[The film] is very much me taking a look at what’s going on with me. I want very much to say, ‘Look at this poor girl!’ But that’s what up,” Schumer said.
Asked by an audience member what the most fun part of the shoot was for her, Schumer said, “This is super-lame, but this is a personal story for me — and just getting to do it with my sister there every step of the way [was the most fun].”
From the audience, a woman shouted a sound — something that sounded like, “Mew! Mew!” Schumer immediately recognized the signal and responded with the same sisterly bird call.
“There she is,” Schumer said. “She’s wasted.”
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