Romantic comedies are a tricky business; if you get the elements right, your film can enter the halls of classics like When Harry Met Sally or Sabrina. But if you get it wrong (and it can go oh, so wrong), your project can be doomed for eternity, like The Proposal or The Ugly Truth. Directed by Judd Apatow and starring Amy Schumer (who also wrote the film), Trainwreck gets stopped in its tracks byApatow’s worst habit — his lack of self-editing.
Clocking in at more than two hours, Trainwreck tries to tell a very simple story: girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl wins boy back; but with its meandering plotlines and desire to pack in as many laughs as it can, it loses a significant amount of emotional depth that’s at the core of the convoluted love story between Amy Townsend (Schumer) and Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader).
When we first meet grown-up Amy, 23 years after her father (Colin Quinn) has drilled the phrase “monogamy isn’t realistic” into the heads of his two daughters, she introduces her promiscuous lifestyle through the (always dubious) use of voiceover.
Trainwreck picks up steam when Amy, a top writer at Manhattan men’s magazine S’nuff, gets assigned a story about Aaron — the leading knee surgeon for professional athletes. The pair has immediate chemistry in their playful first interaction. Hader and Schumer are delightful, but Aaron and LeBron James have an even more convincing relationship. Every scene between the two guys is comedic gold (especially when the two discuss splitting their lunch check), but it’s problematic to the film as a whole that these scenes are the most memorable even though they don’t include Amy, and they don’t push the plot forward.
While the inclusion of James is both a blessing and a curse for the film due to his unexpected magnetism, the choice of Hader as the film’s leading man is a slam dunk. Best known for his unmatched ability to do impressions, Hader steps up as Amy’s love interest, playing it straight with real emotion and personality in every scene. He brings a depth to the love story between Aaron and Amy that is absolutely essential to caring about the romantic fate of these two individuals. You can see the love in his eyes for Amy when he visits her ailing father in the expensive nursing home or when he’s convincing her to continue seeing him because they both “really like each other.”
Schumer’s performance is often hilarious, but she’s so confined by the stand-up disguised as dialogue that she has no time to develop as a balanced character. The scene in which Amy confides her fears about relationship deal-breakers with her sister Kim (Brie Larson) is especially stinted. Without character authenticity, the audience stops believing that Amy is the “trainwreck” that the film promised, or that she actually needs to clean up her life to be happy. Beyond being concerned about her father’s health, Amy doesn’t put out a particularly unhappy vibe. “Before you judge, you should know I’m doing fine,” she says. “My friends are awesome, my apartment’s sick, and I have a great job at a men’s magazine.” This confusion is only compounded by the fact that she is one ofS’nuff’s most gifted writers and is up for a massive promotion at work. The only two tangible negative things we know about Amy are that she sleeps with her subject, and that she’s rude enough to leave her phone on during movie dates and award luncheons.
The crux of the film relies on this second tiny social faux pas, when Amy left Aaron’s Doctors without Borders award speech to take a work call. The initial interaction between Aaron and Amy right after he confronts her in the hallway is important. It is the first time that we see Aaron standing up for himself and calling Amy out on her poor behavior. “You knew that I wanted to make that speech to you,” he says as he reaches out to her. But instead of keeping the audience in that real moment, Amy immediately makes a joke about Aaron carrying his award trophy around. And while the joke itself is a pretty good one, it wasn’t the time or the place for it. While, by itself, this moment of unnecessary levity does fit in with Amy’s standard lack of emotional maturity and fear of commitment — even if that commitment is hurting the one you love — these moments that feature jokes burying actual plot points are, unfortunately, a dime a dozen.
And that’s Trainwreck’s biggest problem: for being such a long film with so many aspirations, Apatow never lets the audience get comfortable and sit in a moment to feel bad or good with the characters. Instead, he and Schumer tack on unnecessary scenes filled with cameos — like Aaron’s failed love intervention instigated by James, Matthew Broderick, Marv Albert, and Chris Everett that tried to get the doctor back together with Amy, or the fake indie film starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei — instead of tightening up the compelling story that they are trying to tell.
Of course there can be scenes just for laughs, but there are far too many in Trainwreck, diluting what soul the movie might have had. Schumer kills it in these hilarious moments as she does so often on Inside Amy Schumer, but this film doesn’t trust her enough to fly on her own, outside of the five-to-ten minute sketch box. The movie wasn’t a complete train wreck, but then again, neither is Amy.