Have you ever heard a joke that didn’t make you laugh? You immediately got it, but the teller was convinced you just didn’t catch the subtle nuance. That’s the primary currency in “Trainwreck”. Jokes appear to be clever, but there’s nothing that’s truly laugh-out-loud funny. It’s all quaint, but well traveled material.
This is a surprising turn for anyone familiar with writer and lead star Amy Schumer, whose Comedy Central show drips with as much relevance as it does crass jokes. What transpires here isn’t her doing perhaps as much as director Judd Apatow. Sure, Schumer has the writing credit, but this all feels like Apatow lite. He knows how to produce and two of his features are incredible, but Schumer collaborated with the once-memorable director almost a decade too late.
In place of his normal male leads, we have Amy (Schumer) who’s a train wreck. She enjoys the less savory things – casual sex, a few too many and a good, long hit, but nothing that resembles the norm for most. Her sister, Kim (Brie Larson), becomes a constant reminder of all the regular things that repulse her.
But as far as train wrecks go, she has a successful job as a journalist and cares for her ailing father, Gordon Townsend (Colin Quinn). And when love does find her through Aaron (Bill Hader), a sports doctor, she even gives it a shot. In fact, if this was about a male character, it might receive a more generic name like “Guy meets Girl” and focus on the challenges of moving from partying to romance.
It seems like a revolutionary concept at first — a feminist comedy — but much of the sting in the premise is based on the idea of a female character doing the same things as males. For that matter, this is relatively close to Lena Dunham’s character in the HBO show “Girls”, another Apatow production. And by the end, “Trainwreck” resides in traditional film territory, replicating the path of so many romantic comedies that came before.
None of this is necessarily bad. Repetition works well for pop songs and ballad poems. But if you see through the story in a film that’s supposed to be smart and funny, you might wonder what genre of a film this is. Apatow likes his dramedy, but his last three films don’t provide enough of the latter and aren’t strong enough with the former.
Still, Schumer proves she has more to offer than stand-up or sketch comedy. She taps into real emotion, something she hasn’t done before. If you’ve ever watched “Inside Amy Schumer”, her acting isn’t diverse. But then, sketch comedy like “SNL” isn’t known for authentic acting. She proves she’s more than a one-trick comedian. But it’s odd to highlight her dramatic performance in what should be a comedy.
As for her comedic lines, much of those scenes appear straight out of her show, particularly the sexual scenes. Her awkwardly charming delivery is memorable and she’s a fun performer, but the majority of the good gags aren’t hers.
Most of the comedic moments occur thanks to cameos and bit performances from Tilda Swinton, WWE wrestler John Cena and LeBron James, who plays himself and is the highlight of the film. He’s a romantic and thrifty dude. Perhaps the best scenes in the film occur between him and Hader’s Aaron.
The entire film might be worth watching just for Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei’s schtick. You’ll just have to see for yourself. That sequence actually is subtle in a very rewarding way.
As a drama, “Trainwreck” features adequate characters. As a comedy, the gags are too spread out, and the entire film runs 20 minutes too long. It’s a shame. With so much talent and a fantastic idea to work with, the result is something too common, never terrible, but hardly worth revisiting.