Trainwreck (2015)

I do not have the answer to why I thought this Judd Apatow movie will be any better than his previous films. Probably because the queen of contemporary stand up comedy Amy Schumer (whom I actually like!) wrote a screenplay for this so-called “feminist romantic comedy”. To be honest, I am still not completely sure what happened: was it the fact that she is used to writing short stand-up routines and not two-hour long movies? Or did she originally wrote something much edgier and controversial, but had to polish it up because the studios said so? Because for Amy who is always so unapologetically herself, to write a movie that quietly judges the borderline alcoholic party girl that she is… I just cannot and do not buy it. This has Judd Apatow (in collaboration with a group of other conservative male producers) written all over it.

Amy, the main character in the film, is a pretty obvious alter-ego of the real Amy Schumer who sleeps around, drinks too much, does not date (at least not in a traditional sense) and who seems to genuinely like her wild lifestyle, without ever feeling guilty or embarrassed by it. She also does not feel the pressure of conforming to social standards that supposedly apply to all 30-something women. The thought of marriage repulses her and she finds the thought of having children revolting – and this alone is a HUGE step forward in mainstream cinema because – for once! – there is a woman who does not aspire to be a wife or a mother. She is a single woman who does not dream of a big wedding and is not spending every waking hour dreaming about babies because “her biological clock is ticking”. But such a premise clearly cannot work in Hollywood – because the character that I just described only exists for the first quarter of the film. After that, the film chooses to take a big dump on the idea that such an Amy-person could ever exist in a real world.

But let’s start at the beginning. This film received mostly good reviews and got praised for it’s “feminist” central character. And while I admire some of the characteristics that the early version of Amy has, there is also quite a few things that I have a problem with. I do not know when being a feminist became equal to being sexually promiscuous. Because freely expressing one’s sexuality does not necessarily mean behaving like a college boy at a frat party. Not believing in a monogamous relationship also does not mean that your sex life is one night stand after another; because a person who lives like that is not so much sexually liberated, as it is emotionally damaged. And Amy seems to be just that. She is not emancipated and free; she is just terribly afraid of commitment. And it is not that she does not believe in monogamy: she is afraid of it, and because of this she rather lives the life of one night stands and morning walks of shame, all while secretly wishing for a prince (doctor) charming to ride with her into the sunset.

Moreover, this film seems to be trying to establish a female character that acts and thinks like a man; instead of trying to destroy the binary understanding of masculine-feminine, it perpetuates it by saying that, by acting more like a man, you are somehow more powerful and emancipated. But you don not have to become the worst version of a man to be their equal! And this does not apply just to the Amy character – perhaps an even better example of how women who are portrayed as “strong” and “emancipated” in films often behave like men is Amy’s unsympathetic boss, portrayed by (almost unrecognisable) Tilda Swinton. Of course it is important to overcome the persistent gender dichotomy of how men and women are expected to behave; but if “emancipated and strong” women characters only get portrayed as female versions of some Mad Men-like businessmen we have a problem. This glorification of male characteristics excludes all women (as well as homosexual men) who do not act tough enough, who are not prepared to sacrifice their personal lives for being even considered for a top position job, who do not take credit for other people’s work and do not throw their co-workers under the bus in order to climb to the top. Swinton’s character (apart for being very poorly written) is worryingly uninterested in the people she works with, she talks down to her employees, has very questionable morals and does not appear to posses even an ounce of compassion or empathy – and she lives for her career. Just remember Sigourney Weaver’s character in Working Girl, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada or Sandra Bullock in The Proposal (to name just a few) – they could all be the same character; and they all look like capitalism’s wet dream, where women are thrown into a man’s world and need to even adapt or get the fuck out since they do not belong there in the first place. I am getting sick of seeing women portrayed in such ways – either as semi-emancipated (but actually super vulnerable and in need of a guy to set them straight), or as cold-hearted bitches who succeed in the business world not because they would be good at what they do, but because they successfully adapt to being a part of the male clique; and finally, as devoted housewives whose whole life revolves exclusively around their husband and children. And this film has one of each: we can find a housewife-type in Amy’s sister Kim, played by always brilliant Brie Larson, whose family life looks almost grotesquely happy.

However, let’s move to the biggest problem that I had with this supposedly feminist piece of cinema. Because quickly after the first half an hour Amy meets a sports doctor Aaron (Bill Hader) who turns out to be everything that was missing from her life; all that was keeping her from being truly happy. Yes, all she needed was exactly the thing she despised the most: a monogamous relationship with a guy! Of course, her being Amy, there is a few more bumps along the way, but they all lead to a grand (the most clichéd, nauseating) finale – where she puts on a dancing sequence with professional cheerleaders. Come on, Schumer, really? Not to mention that there is a whole sequence of her “turning a new leaf and becoming a better person” where she decides to throw out all the drugs and alcohol in her apartment. I will not even go into the fact that she gives every last bit of it to the homeless guy that she occasionally talks to in front of her apartment, with which she immediately degrades him into a bum and an addict and makes us think that him living on the street is somehow his and not society’s fault. Why doesn’t she offer him something to eat instead, or some warm clothes for when it gets cold during the night? Why doesn’t she let him use her bathroom from time to time? You know, treating him as an actual human being and not as a prop whose presence in the film does not have any other meaning but to prove us how she is actually a nice girl that we should root for because she acknowledges the existence of a guy that is mostly invisible to other people.

To conclude – Amy completely changes from who she was at the beginning and not only that: she changes herself for the guy’s sake. So, where exactly is there a feminist message? And what were all those ridiculous scenes with James LeBron? And why do white people in movies only associate with rich and famous black people? The only other black character in this film was her father’s male nurse, and even he seemed to be included just so Amy’s (oh so white) work colleague could deliver a stupid joke about how “she had a black boyfriend once”. Black people in this film are therefore either used as props for jokes that fall completely flat or as world famous athletes whose presence in a film is mainly for better publicity. Which is just plain disappointing.

The movie otherwise had some good jokes, but since I am a fan of Amy’s stand up, I already watched most of her shows on YouTube – long before this movie came out. Which is why even some of the good jokes did not make me laugh, because they were mostly just badly recycled stories from her stand-up routine. This was not at all what I had expected of her, or of any self-proclaimed feminist for that matter.

The Basics:
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Written by: Amy Schumer
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton
Running Time: 125 minutes
Year: 2015
Rating: 2

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19 thoughts on “Trainwreck (2015)”

  1. I’m a new subscriber because of your vast knowledge and clear love of film. Trainwreck may not be the next film I rush out to see; however, you write interestingly and beautifully.

    Your site kept me busy during a recent (and disastrous) trip to Paris. It was raining and I was lonely just stuck in my hotel room.

    Keep up the great work.

    1. Thank you so much! It really means a lot to hear something like that and I am honoured to have you subscribed to my blog.
      And I am sorry to hear about your trip to Paris! That really doesn’t sound like much fun, but I am happy to hear that my site helped a bit. 🙂

      As for Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, there’s really no need to rush.

  2. This is a good dissecting of the film. I agree with you most of the way. Especially that there are no black people except athletes. I didn’t even notice that. I’ve gotten so used to it with Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese and their colorless New York’s that it didn’t even occur to me. I disagree about the crazy female bosses in movies. Both about it being sexist and about their traits being gender specific. And I thought it was absurdly funny that she gives her local homeless man all her drugs. Because it’s an awful thing to do. However, from experience, if someone had handed me a box of drugs when I was on the street I would have kissed them on the lips and said, “For me? How did you know? It’s just what I always wanted.” I completely agree with you about her changing herself for him. I would have preferred that she drop the drugs and booze but still maintain her anti-monogamy stance. And he realize that if he wants to be with her, he has to evolve his way of thinking. But there is no way the Hollywood system would go for that. (There would be riots in the heartland. Burning copies of the film) But I totally and absolutely agree that everything good about the movie came from Amy’s stand-up and everything bad about it came from Judd Apatow’s lack of talent. Very good review. Love your blog.

    1. Thank you, Mel! Glad to hear you agree with most of it. 🙂

      As for the portrayal of crazy female bosses, I didn’t really find it sexist, just painfully stereotypical. Hollywood really loves to stick to it’s patterns. And I find it a bit problematic, because women still rarely (or less frequently than men, even if they’re equally qualified) get promoted to the top positions at their jobs, because they’re supposedly too maternal, emotional, empathetic and this obviously means that they’re not good leaders, bosses, whatever… but it would be wonderful to see this two characteristics combined in their film portrayals from time to time, instead of denying them the emotional part on behalf of them having a good career. Maybe such portrayal would (over time, of course) change the general perception of women and show people that we can manage to be in charge, while also being nice and empathetic towards other people. That we can be in charge, but also have a personal life, or even a family. But my expectations for Hollywood films are obviously too high. 🙂

      Anyhow, I just wanted to elaborate my stand about female bosses in case my thoughts weren’t clear enough in the review. But I completely respect you not agreeing with me; it is always a pleasure to hear your thoughts and engage in a discussion. Thank you again for the comment. 🙂

      1. The way I learned it, I always put leaders into just two categories. Beloved or Feared. Traditionally, or at least in the accounts of famous women who were leaders (myth or otherwise) they led by love. All of the people were in love with them and followed them. Emotional, feminine, maternal, leaders. But more recently our stories and our actual female leaders seem more inclined to lead by fear. But it’s the same with men. Some lead by fear, some by love. (And some both). You’re right though. Hollywood has glorified the “Dragon Lady” persona (at least in business leaders) because I think we’ve forgotten that there is another way to lead. When a woman is a leader of men, to think that those men must fear her in order to follow her is a failing of lazy writers. But as far as women not being promoted in business. I feel that the entire business landscape across the world has become a breeding ground for sociopaths, emotionless and bitter executives firing and slashing and cutting and profit-taking without any thought about the lives and people and environment lost. Business (and finance to an even greater extent) has no room anymore for human emotion or empathy. And it needs it. It sorely needs it.

      2. Yes, exactly! I completely agree with you here. It’s nice to see we’re on the same page. 🙂

        As for the contemporary business world, I agree, empathy or rather, humanity, has no place in it anymore. Which is why I like to stress out when I get a chance that it would be nice to see a movie from time to time with a storyline that would present a challenge to the established system; a movie that would show people that there’s nothing “natural” or unchangeable in the way we work and live (and that the characteristics we usually equate with women and their domestic sphere, can also be of value there). But yeah, I do realize my expectations are too high, because Hollywood is, after all, a business that works by the same mechanisms that I find problematic.

  3. Great post. Glad to see I wasn’t the only person who was very confused by the accolades this movie got. And what about the magazine she works for? Aren’t those magazines degrading women, with pictures of them wearing barely a thing all over the covers??

    And Swinton’s character disgusted me. She actually says the line “I wouldn’t fuck that guy with your dick”

    Is that considered comedy these days?!

    And like you I was surprised as I also enjoy her TV show. The humour is much more varied. Here it is sex joke, masturbation joke, sex joke etc etc

    1. Thank you, Jordan! I am so glad I wasn’t the only one who hated this movie – and Swinton’s character! Most people didn’t have a problem with her, but she annoyed me almost as much as Schumer’s Amy. It is beyond me how this could be considered a comedy. It’s full of offensive stereotypes and cheap jokes – but the fact that it was promoted as a film with feminist message was probably the worst and most repulsive (at least for me, as a woman and a feminist).

      And yes, you’re absolutely right – the fact that she works for such a magazine is also extremely problematic. But if I wanted to include everything that was wrong with this film, this review would be three pages long. Really, it’s a shame, I expected so much more from Schumer…

      1. I expected more too, cos I like her show. I’m with you all the way on this one, I might post my review of the movie which has been hiding in my drafts cos everyone else liked it haha!!

        If I’ll post it I’ll definitely link to your review as I really enjoyed it – as usual!

        Good luck with your studies 🙂

      2. Yeah, I know, most people really liked it!
        Anyhow, I am really looking forward to reading your review. And thank you in advance if you’ll link it to my review – I am sure this will do wonders to my stats. I hope I’ll have a chance to return a favour someday. 🙂

        Thank you! I actually finished my undergraduate degree two weeks ago. Finally! It’s been a really long and tiring summer, but it was totally worth it. 🙂

  4. I disliked the movie a little as well because it was two separate movies all rolled into one. It was cool with the whole Don Jon type plot in the beginning but afterwards it turned into a typical rom-com and that’s just .. we’ve seen all of it a thousand times already.

    Nice review !

  5. Excellent review, so many good points! I was hoping to enjoy the movie but found it very disappointing overall for some of the same reasons you outline here. My favorite argument of yours: “I don’t know when being a feminist became equal to being sexually promiscuous.”

    1. Thank you, Alina! I am really glad to hear that we agree on this film being disappointing – not many people saw it this way. And thank you for letting me know that I wasn’t the only one who was bothered with her promiscuity (or rather with the fact that a promiscuous woman became considered as somehow more liberated, freer).
      I think Schumer should read a book or two about feminism before she decides to write another “feminist comedy”. 🙂

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