Ida Noyes’s Max Palevsky theater was packed Monday evening as students took advantage of a free showing of Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer’s new film Trainwreck, hosted by student film society Doc Films. The offer was especially tempting, considering that the film isn’t scheduled to premiere for another three months. (This also means that what we saw Monday night was likely a work-in-progress print of the film, and literally everything I write here is subject to change.)
Trainwreck is a loving recreation of the classic rom com tropes, just with the traditional male and female roles reversed, and a few more F-bombs than you’d see out of other Ephronian fare. While the appeal of the film may at first glance lie in the subversion of the well-worn formula, Trainwreck mostly plays it straight. Really, plug in Matthew McConaughey for Schumer’s Amy and substitute Catherine Zeta-Jones for love interest Aaron (Bill Hader), and you’d have an exact recreation of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, No Reservations, or any of the countless rom coms of the last decade where a smirking Lothario (invariably male) learns to settle down with a straitlaced scold who learns how to loosen up (depressingly, always female).
Schumer, by her own admission playing herself, is following the hard-drinking and philandering ways of her father (Colin Quinn), who’s in a nursing home with multiple sclerosis. Her younger sister (Brie Larson) has settled down with a dorky husband and an even dorkier stepson. Amy is holding down a writing job on a magazine when she gets the assignment from her boss (Tilda Swinton) to cover Dr. Aaron Connors and his new invention—a knee insert. They fall in love. Drama ensues.
The film’s adherence to the genre’s familiar beats verges on tedious, and the extra plotlines enlisted to buoy the central love story are either undercooked or preposterous, putting a lot of weight on the jokes to keep the film chugging along at an engaging pace. The script is credited to Schumer, but there seems to be a lot of the standard Apatow style riffing that devolves scenes into the setup-improv-exposition-improv-exit template that alternates between pleasingly familiar and grating, depending on the quality of the actors and the riffs. Notably, scenes revolving around non-actors are actually the funniest. Wrestler John Cena and basketball player LeBron James both show up in roles that are more than just cameos, and both demonstrate a gift for comedic timing. Even playing the same threadbare character type (big buff dude who turns out to be sensitive and nerdy), they anchor the most entertaining scenes in the movie. In general, most of the jokes here are pretty dire, although there is the major caveat that Trainwreck was absolutely killing the crowd at Doc, so hey, what do I know?
Trainwreck is fated to be shoved into the “unladylike women” genre along with Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids and the TV shows Broad City and Schumer’s own Inside Amy Schumer, a classification that’s more reflective of the male-dominated state of pop-culture than the qualities of the film. Still, Trainwreck may have tapped into a zeitgeist. After an introductory montage in which Schumer’s character gets into drunken misadventures and explains her rules for kicking dudes to the curb like a boss, one of the people sitting next to me remarked to her neighbor, “I hope the whole movie is just this, like she never changes.” I think that remark sums up the appeal here. It is undeniably refreshing to see Schumer fill the role of unrepentant, debauched lout classically dominated by men, but how far that sense of refreshment persists through the next two hours probably depends on you.