Where modern romantic comedies are concerned, the inciting incident is always about two people who don’t seem to have a full grip on love. They know how to fall into it easy enough; it can be as easy as talking to the new woman in the office, or chatting up a charming Best Buy salesman. It’s then that things get dodgy with differing points of view, the inevitable wedge that drives them apart, and fevered conversations attempting to hash things out even with one side speaking Martian and the other side Venutian.
But what if love isn’t what we’re after in the first place?
The titular TRAINWRECK is Amy Townsend (Amy Schumer). At an early age, her jilted father instilled into Amy and her sister Kim that monogamy wasn’t realistic. The story then fast-forwards twenty-five years or so, and Amy is still holding fast to that lesson. She’s settled personally with a decent New York apartment, and professionally with a job as a columnist at S’Nuff magazine. Romantically though, her choices raise questions. She’s not really looking for love, and just to make doubly sure of things, she never stays the night with the guys she hooks-up with.
But hey – she’s happy, so no biggie, right?
During a pitch meeting at S’Nuff, a story about a sports doctor named Aaron Connors (Bill Hader) is proposed, and while Amy’s editor Dianna (Tilda Swinton) likes the idea, she doesn’t want one of the sports-crazed dudes on-staff writing the piece, Instead she assigns it to Amy, who couldn’t care about sports in the least. This is despite the fact that her sorta-kinda-boyfriend Steven (John Cena) is so fitness-crazed that he looks like he could break a man in half. But Amy clearly doesn’t care about what Steven cares about, because she still sees other guys on the side…and when Steven finds out, he’s crestfallen and leaves her.
Perhaps it’s for the best, since Amy and Kim (Brie Larson) are both focused on trying to take care of their father Gordon (Colin Quinn), whose MS requires he take up residence in assisted living. Kim is the complete antithesis of Amy – married, with a step-son, and a new baby on the way. Kim loves Amy dearly, but one always gets the impression that just below the surface, Kim truly wishes Amy would get her shit together.
Perhaps the key to that is Aaron, who actually takes a liking to Amy. When he’s not treating his all-star roster, or palling around with his BFF, LeBron James, Aaron is falling hard for a woman who is very much his opposite. What begins as a working relationship soon becomes a romantic one, and while Amy and Aaron both seem to be having fun, the question continually lingers about what exactly it is that Amy wants in a relationship…or even what she needs.
TRAINWRECK does some interesting things to suggest that so much of what throws us off in the dating scene is how we all approach things so differently. When we meet Amy, she’s not exactly looking for “Mister Right”. Content to keep her life compartmentalized, she keeps her hook-ups, her somewhat-pseudo-boyfriend, her family, and her work all separated. Try listing that on an OK Cupid profile. It’s easy to say that a person like Amy doesn’t know what she wants, but what TRAINWRECK proposes is that a person like Amy wants little things from a lot of people…and articulating that isn’t always quick or easy. So, she rolls with it.
Sometimes she gets hurt, sometimes she hurts others, but so far, it gets the job done.
The great thing is watching Amy react when people like Steven, Aaron, or Kim call her on it. Every time she gets cornered into an argument, she first seems like something of a jerk. However, as she tries to explain herself in these moments, what we come to understand is that she never wanted to hurt these people, she just never thought about explaining in detail what she wanted in the first place.
So she takes it on the chin, she plays the role of bad guy for a few days – or forever where Steven is concerned – and she moves on, thinking about how much she wants to explain next time.
What’s great about Amy Schumer’s script is that it will make the audience think a little longer about the next “hot mess” they encounter. The tendency is to throw around labels (use your imagination, I don’t feel like spelling them out here). However, as Schumer’s script – and much of her other comedic material underlines – we usually don’t give much thought to what brings any person, and especially any women, to the point they’re at when we encounter them. Perhaps they are trying to self-medicate a bad situation. Perhaps they are trying to escape from one. Perhaps they’ve just achieved something big and have earned the right to shed some responsibility. We seldom know, and we shouldn’t have to. Schumer’s story reminds us that the girl pounding shots and leaving the bar with the intern might have just buried a parent a few weeks prior…so the rest of us would probably be better off minding our business and judging less.
What’s amusing about TRAINWRECK – or perhaps slightly tragic – is its flaw. Its chief flaw is that it feels slightly bloated, a little lengthy, giving time to too many ideas and ultimately taking away from the very best few. The amusing/tragic part is that much of this comes from how much attention the film gives to Aaron’s storyline. Perish the thought that a film should resist the urge to flesh out both halves of a couple at the core of the story, giving the audience a chance to fully understand the baggage that each is bringing with them. However, too many times it feels as though we’re slapping the snooze button on Amy’s journey to see isolated incidents detailing Aaron’s reactions. Aaron is an interesting character, and does indeed play a great part in Amy’s emotional epiphany…but the movie isn’t called SPORTS DOCTOR.
Had the movie stayed focused on Amy and her journey, I feel as though it could have been one of the greats. With all the time dedicated solely to Aaron and his perspective, we’ll have to settle for one of the goods. Alas.
The moral of TRAINWRECK is that we are all entitled to want what we want when we want it. If we want to focus on ourselves and our work, then swell. If we want to define ourselves by our homes and our families, godspeed. If we want to unleash a film that is cutting and revolutionary, then do so. If we want that film to wrap itself in the typical tropes of a gooey Hollywood rom-com, so be it.