At this point, carping at Judd Apatow comedies for being meandering, shapeless, overlong formal messes is tantamount to missing the point entirely. Apatow’s comedies clearly are, and have always been, dramas in raunchy drag. Furthermore, their rhythms aren’t haphazard, but rather a conscious attempt to approximate the sloppy and graceless form of life itself. And if no one has ever accused him of directing an elegant moment, well, such is the price of forging a path in rom-com realism. From the playful tug of war between beauty and the beast in Knocked Up to the surfacing rage of middle-aged resentment in This Is 40, all of his films have, at the very least, defaulted to a sanguine sort of omniscience. (At their worst, they’ve bordered on laissez-faire.) Trainwreck, however, is his first job at the helm without a script written by him, this one having been penned by the usually more assertive Amy Schumer.
The cresting Schumer stars as Amy (presumably only partially a roman à clef), one of two sisters whose gruff, asshole father (Colin Quinn) taught them to disbelieve in the viability of monogamy throughout their formative years. Amy’s younger sibling, Kim (Brie Larson), rebelled against his advice, settling in comfortably with a kind-hearted single father. But Amy has super-consciously taken her father’s credo to the crotch, devouring the singles scene with gusto, tearing through one-night stands like a hooker jumping the subway turnstile, and guzzling alcohol just to put an exclamation point on her confident licentiousness. She’s a mess, but she’s firmly at the control switch, damn it!
Except at no point does Trainwreck seem to actually believe that. Quite a bit has been written about the film’s feminist spin on a typically misogynist genre, about how Schumer’s character never apologizes for behaving the same way men routinely get away with acting, invoking the magic words “sex positive” to describe her quantifiably healthy libido. But Schumer’s tone from the very first frame and the very first thrust is defensive, not celebratory. The script doesn’t revel in Amy’s quite harmless flaws, or at least examine them in the spirit of benevolence. It repeatedly, and in the shallowest ways possible, offers up excuses for them. Amy was raised by an unrepentant letch to fear intimacy, ergo her sex drive is tidily equated with emotional repression, her fear of commitment processed as confusion with regard to the masculine temperament her father programmed into her. Early on in the film, she scoffs openly at her meathead boyfriend, Steven (John Cena), who practically dutch-ovens Amy in bed with his vapors of testosterone, for barely being able to suppress his homo-suggestive flexing. It isn’t just petty satire, it’s borderline delusional.
But where Trainwreck really crashes and burns is in its reactionary bait and switch. No, this isn’t the first Apatow film that drifts inexorably toward the healing infallibility of domestic monogamy. In fact, they pretty much have all reached that conclusion. But this is the first one that posits any alternative life path as unquestionably self-destructive. Amy and screenwriter Schumer score points in tandem throughout the film by taking cheap shots at the myth of suburban bliss. At a baby shower, she attacks her sister’s friends as “the Real Housewives of Hell,” but as soon as she meets and submits to Bill Hader’s faultless doctor, there’s no doubt he’s from heaven. And all the lip service to sex positivity are revealed as fraud, a mask for righteous “make love positivity.” It’s really an unfortunate bit of serendipity that the great Tilda Swinton was cast in the thankless role of Dianna, Amy’s editor-in-chief at a grimly mansplain-happy magazine which runs articles like “You’re Not Gay, She’s Just Terrible.” Swinton’s lead from Erick Zonca’s Julia, a legitimate but also infinitely more intricately shaded hot mess and a sister truly doing it for herself, would have drunk Trainwreck’s Amy for lunch.