Trainwreck begins with a scene set twenty-three years in the past, when Amy and her sister Kim (played in adulthood by Amy Schumer and Brie Larson) being told by their dad Gordon (Colin Quinn) that monogamy doesn’t work. Cut to present day, where Amy seems to have taken that advice to heart. She sleeps around, and has a firm rule about not letting of her partners sleep over. But then this approach to relationships gets tested when Amy meets Aaron (Bill Hader), a successful sports surgeon with whom she hits it off. Amy gives having a real relationship a try, though everything about the arrangement freaks her out.
Trainwreck was written by Amy Schumer, and her voice and her specific brand of comedy is all over it. And it is a voice that doesn’t quite work within a traditional romantic comedy context. There is a weird struggle at the heart of this picture, with Schumer’s irreverence running up against the ungainly structure of the genre. This tension ends up producing a pretty uneven film. Thankfully, a surplus of comedic talent makes up for that unevenness, the actors smoothing some of the film’s rougher portions.
Schumer is best known for her work on her sketch-based TV show, Inside Amy Schumer. And those sensibilities shine through in this picture, which at times feels like isolated sketch ideas strung together. This is not a bad thing on its own, but within the structure of a romantic comedy, it makes for some weird moments. There are long diversions from the plot as the film pursues a sense of absurdity that the movie cannot really support. There is a long scene in the back end of the movie, for example, that has the comedic conceit of Marv Albert doing play-by-play on an intervention. It’s funny in concept, but it doesn’t fit within the story that’s already being told.
The film is serving two masters, and it ends up stretching out the film to unreasonable proportions. There are scenes in this film that feel like they’re just there because romcoms have those scenes in them. Those scenes feel like an obligation, and the film ends up making fun of those sequences anyway. Still, the film is not without its pleasures. There are plenty of moments of transcendent comedy, Schumer easily displaying her signature brand of well-informed, boundary-pushing comedy.
It helps a lot that this cast is overflowing with comedic talent. Schumer is pretty great in this role, and she shares great chemistry with Bill Hader. The two feel like a real couple on screen, despite the strange, manufactured context that the film provides for them. Brie Larson is terrific in what could have been a thankless role. And then there are the fringes of the film, which seems to have recruited all of the great comedic talent in New York at the time. Comedy fans will recognize Dave Attell playing a homeless man, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser and Randall Park working with Amy in her office, and Colin Quinn playing her dad. The film also gets a lot out of Lebron James, whose facial expressions provide some of the biggest laughs of the film.
Trainwreck is ultimately too conservative to be a great platform for Schumer’s comedy. It feels like the film is making concessions in trying to appeal to a mass audience. It smooths out the rough edges, and in the end succumbs to the call of romcom formula. It’s still better than the average romcom, the film filled with moments that go well beyond the limits of the genre. But the struggle is palpable, and the film’s length makes it all more tedious than it ought to be.