Saturday, August 08, 2015

TRAINWRECK

"Monogamy isn't realistic!" That's the motto Gordon Townsend taught to his two tween daughters when he separated from their mother. Older daughter Amy certainly took that to heart to the point that now, 25 years later, she will not commit to any sort of romantic or emotional relationship with a man - boyfriend or even casual sex date.

     She is the female equivalent of the "players" who bed every girl in sight but never commit to any and that have been grist for the Hollywood romantic comedy mill for years now - and that's the first good thing about Judd Apatow's newest comedy. Trainwreck "breaks down" the "glass ceiling" of mainstream American comedy by turning the tables and giving a female character centre stage in what otherwise be a male-centred film.

     The second good thing - and that is, in fact, the key to Trainwreck - is that Mr. Apatow does it by empowering an actress that isn't a made star to take the lead role and write the script as a vehicle custom-tailored to her personal sensibility instead of fitting her around a cookie-cutter formula. This is the current American "it" comedian Amy Schumer, who proves you don't need to be a runway model to be sexy and you don't need to be a freak to be funny. She is an average girl living an average life in modern-day New York - a "working girl" to quote from Mike Nichols' late eighties comedy, to whom Mr. Apatow pays tribute early on in a smart sight gag.

     And Ms. Schumer also knows how to smartly keep within romantic comedy traditions while demolishing them inexorably, as she provides the "sex change" twists that make Trainwreck such a satisfying film: as a writer for a rowdy "lad magazine" assigned an interview with milquetoast sports physician Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) who has become the toast of the sports world, Amy (Ms. Schumer) finds herself falling for this man, so different from the airheaded loverboys and wannabes she beds on a regular basis. But does she really want to embrace that change?

     Therein lies the trick: Ms. Schumer is twisting the rules in such a way that there can no longer be any sort of excuse to play them in the same old same old way, no need to stick to the tried and true (and tired). The greatest thing about Trainwreck, though, is that it's not just funny for funny's sake; this is a fully character-driven piece where you're not having fun at the expense of anyone but laughing along with everyone's foibles. These, from Amy to her more grounded sister Annie (Brie Larson) through Aaron's star patient Lebron James (yes, that Lebron James, a natural-born comedian) and the sarcastic homeless guy outside Amy's flat (Dave Attell), are people like you and me, who deal with the same problems we do. Yes, Amy is a bit of a trainwreck as the title puts it, but she is also running away from herself and trying to avoid confronting her issues, and that only makes her more endearing and more vulnerable.

     It's also a better film than previous female-centred Apatow productions such as Bridesmaids, probably because it's directed by the man himself with his usual attention to detail and character and refusal to just pull off a laughter machine (but also his clumsy, all-over-the-place sense of rhythm). It' marks Mr. Apatow's proper return to form as well after a couple of underachieving films, even if still somewhat over-long at two hours - that's also part of what makes it so good: the sense that this a straight-forward character comedy that knows when to be serious and when to crack a joke. And yes, Ms. Schumer should by rights become a star. More to the point, this is the best comedy Hollywood has made in a long while, and there's still hope for the genre.

TRAINWRECK
USA, Japan, 2015
124 minutes
Cast Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Mike Birbiglia, Ezra Miller, Dave Attell, Tilda Swinton, Lebron James
Director Judd Apatow; screenwriter Ms. Schumer; cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (widescreen); composer Jon Brion; designer Kevin Thompson; costumes Leesa Evans; editors William Kerr and Paul Zucker; producers Mr. Apatow and Barry Mendel; production companies Universal Pictures and Apatow Production in association with Dentsu and Fuji Television Network
screened July 29th 2015, NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon, distributor press screening

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