Film Review: Trainwreck

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Amy Schumer stars as Amy Townsend, whose father (Colin Quinn) tells her and her sister Kim (Brie Larson) as children that monogamy isn’t realistic.  His marriage to the girls’ mother fell apart due to repeated infidelity; there is a funny bit where he tries to explain the divorce to the young girls by asking them if they would only want to play with their one, favorite doll for the rest of their lives (the explanation quickly becomes ridiculously detailed, featuring incredibly specific examples).  Kim grows up thinking their father is a jerk and seeks out stability as an adult; at the film’s beginning, she is married with a stepson, and soon has another child on the way.  Amy, on the other hand, takes her father’s advice to heart, and lives a life full of one-night stands, drinking, and work for a men’s magazine called S’Nuff.  She is assigned an article on sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) precisely because she hates sports and the magazine specializes in snark; however, she and Aaron hit it off, and, to her own surprise, she finds herself embarking on a real relationship with him.

There are a number of things that work really well in this film.  Perhaps the best is Aaron’s friendship with LeBron James, who, as New York Magazine‘s Allison P. Davis notes here, takes up “the traditional mantle of the ‘supportive sidekick’ like he’s the male Judy Greer.”  He sits at Aaron’s side enthusiastically as Aaron calls to ask Amy for a second date, pumping him for details about what has happened so far, all the while never using terms racier than “make love” or “intercourse.”  Later, he asks Amy if he can ask her a question: “Don’t hurt him.”  She begins to ask whether that was really a question, then trails off as he stares her down.  It’s hilarious.

The film also walks a few lines fairly carefully and successfully.  Amy eventually (spoiler alert) hits rock bottom after her father dies; she and Aaron break up after she basically picks a fight with him; and she has a ridiculous, drunken almost-hook-up with a young intern (Ezra Miller) that leads to her firing from S’Nuff.  At this point, she decides to change her ways, throwing out her booze and pot; submitting her snark-free article on Aaron to Vanity Fair; and plotting a big romantic gesture to win Aaron back. As Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen observes here, you could read this behavior “as a classic reform narrative.”  However, Petersen continues, “it’s not as if Amy disposes of wry intelligence or eviscerating insight to win the man. She doesn’t lose weight, or buy a new wardrobe, or express anything like self-hatred. She just disposes with the behaviors she did out of fear.”  And that’s what it comes down to.  Argue, if you want, that she wasn’t doing anything wrong by drinking, doing drugs, and sleeping around (though I think it’s fair enough to say that she drank and smoked pot at some pretty inappropriate times and that she wasn’t exactly treating the men she was sleeping with kindly or respectfully).  The point is is that she was holding herself back from making real emotional connections because she was afraid, which wasn’t good for her. Change, or even “reform,” isn’t bad if you’re doing it for the right reasons, and if you’re doing it to move forward.

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Molly Brost is a Contract Assistant Professor of English at the University of Southern Indiana, where she teaches composition and literature courses. She holds a Ph.D. in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University, as well as an M.A. in English from Colorado State University and a B.S. in Journalism and English from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Her scholarly work interrogates issues of gender, genre, and authenticity in film, television, and country music and has appeared in Americana: the Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-Present)Scope: An Online Journal of Film and TV Studies; and several anthologies.

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