'Trainwreck': Film Review

An extremely funny screenwriting debut with a very personal voice

Amy Schumer plays a woman who's nearly ready to give up her ramblin' ways for Bill Hader.

Cutting through many of the easy signifiers found in bad-behavior comedies to get at what it actually feels like to be an intimacy-phobic mess, Trainwreck finds Judd Apatow putting his directing chops in service of Amy Schumer's deeply felt but cracklingly funny screenplay.

Starring as a woman with, let's say, a well-diversified love life who is disturbed to find herself spending more than one evening with the same man, Schumer is more than credible in the kind of role usually associated with men, making fun of her character's distrust of love while showing how honestly she comes by it. It will be interesting to see how this picture fares commercially compared to Apatow's tales of similarly stunted young men: It's in the same league in terms of laughs, its romance works as well or better, and there's less fat on it than Apatow sometimes allows. What could keep it from being a hit, aside from double standards Americans apply to the sex lives of men and women?

Schumer's character, also named Amy, is a child of divorce whose father (Colin Quinn) taught her at an early age that "monogamy isn't realistic." While her sister Kim (Brie Larson) outgrew that lesson, marrying a man who had a precocious kid from a previous relationship, Amy took it to heart, going home with all comers and generally staying sober enough to flee long before dawn. (If you blacked out and had to make the walk of shame back to Manhattan with commuters on the Staten Island Ferry, you might do the same.)

Amy is more than fine with this lifestyle, and her workplace enables her callousness. She's a writer for a douchey mag called S'NUFF, where a typical headline reads "You Call These Tits?" (A transformed Tilda Swinton, who looks like she's been sandblasted and dipped in preservative chemicals, is frighteningly effective as her soulless editor.)

Assigned to do a feature on Aaron (Bill Hader), a surgeon who specializes in rebuilding injured athletes, the sports-averse Amy is wary. But he interviews her more than vice versa in their first encounter, and before long their conversations are happening over dinner, then drinks, then in a shared cab, where Amy startles Aaron by telling the cabbie they'll be making not two stops but one.

After that first night, we're in a rom-com where the roles are reversed: Amy puzzles over her desire to see Aaron again, while he gets support from a best pal who's thrilled to see he has finally met someone. (That best pal is LeBron James, one of a few celebs who continue the Apatow tradition of working famous nonactors into the cast. Fortunately, James is charming in the part, a penny-pinching Downton Abbey fan who is protective of Aaron's emotions.)

Amy's more pessimistic side is explored in scenes with her dad, who has multiple sclerosis and must live in an assisted care facility. (Centenarian Norman Lloyd, whose screen credits stretch back to Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur in 1942, plays his most interesting neighbor.) Disagreements with Kim about Dad's care are a window into Amy's attitude toward the deeply flawed man and the way he helped shape the mess she became. While one scene on this front effortlessly becomes an eloquent tearjerker, Schumer's script conveys the story's psychological cause-and-effect without needing to express it in cliched dialogue. She's much too busy squeezing in jokes and double entendres to waste words on that kind of thing.

Hader is mostly straight man here, radiating decency and patience even when Amy starts stumbling in their new relationship. Aaron is the kind of boyfriend with whom an I-need-to-be-angry woman really needs to get creative: "You go down on me too much!" she yells, grasping at straws, before warning him in a panic, "Don't try to spin this into a reason for not going down on me."

Schumer has never had anything like a leading film role, but self-revealing stand-up and a TV series have limbered her up for the job. If she doesn't have quite the range of some other nascent stars Apatow has worked with, her writing makes up for it, and she's comfortable enough with the director's trademark improvisation that Trainwreck plays as if it were fully scripted. Structurally, this is one romance whose brief period of crisis emerges less from a need to generate false drama than from insight into a woman who has practiced being a bad girl for so long she can't believe she'd be good for someone. And when that crisis resolves, we're treated to one of the most surprising and charming dance numbers since Napoleon Dynamite.

Here's hoping Schumer goes back to this well as quickly as Woody Allen, an influence she cheekily acknowledges in a midfilm montage.

Production companies: Apatow Productions, Universal Pictures
Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James, Mike Birbiglia, John Cena, Dave Attell, Norman Lloyd
Director: Judd Apatow
Screenwriter: Amy Schumer
Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel
Executive producer: David Householter
Director of photography: Jody Lee Lipes
Production designer: Kevin Thompson
Costume designers: Jessica Albertson, Leesa Evans
Editors: William Kerr, Peck Prior, Paul Zucker

Music: Jon Brion

Rated R, 121 minutes