A ‘Trainwreck’ You Can Laugh At

The roots say dirty blonde. The rosebud mouth conceals tiny thorns. The high-heeled gait is both purposeful and mincing. In “Trainwreck,” Amy Schumer resembles Reese Witherspoon’s taller, potty-mouthed sister with the sexual command of Mae West.

Schumer wrote and stars in this relationship comedy with a gender-reversed hook. In the film directed by Judd Apatow, it is Amy (Schumer’s character) who favors hookups. It is Aaron (Bill Hader), who wants a commitment. She is a writer at a lad magazine not unlike Maxim. He is a sports doctor, subject of one of her profiles.

Is the movie funny? Yes. Is it as mordant as the ruthlessly funny sketch show, “Inside Amy Schumer”? Not by a long shot. On television Schumer hurls sneaky backdoor strikes. In “Trainwreck,” she aims primarily above the waist.

Admittedly this is the wrong sports metaphor, as Aaron’s patients are mostly basketball players, such as LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire, but you get my drift. Still. You expect Schumer to take aim at the conventions of romantic comedy, not to be at the center of one that adheres to them.

The film’s setup is genius. It’s a flashback of Amy, age 12, and her sister Kim, 9, listening to Dad (Colin Quinn) explain why he and their mother are divorcing. As Dad frames the split in G-rated language, his version turns into a series of risqué double-entendres that had me hyperventilating from laughter.

“Trainwreck” is a variation on the theme of the alcoholic with two children: One becomes a drunk, the other a teetotaler; both blame the parent for what they are. The adult Amy believes monogamy is unrealistic, and Kim (played as a grown-up by Brie Larson) is devoted to keeping her family intact.

Like Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” the tone of “Trainwreck” wavers between heartfelt and farcical. In Schumer’s scenes with Larson she displays serious dramatic chops, while in those with Hader she proves herself a worthy successor to Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan and Witherspoon as her generation’s screwball singleton.

Yet her collaborator is Judd Apatow, his generation’s resident moralist, and there is a strange-bedfellows disconnect between Schumer’s script and Apatow’s film. Pardon the mixed metaphor, but the lioness that is her girls-just-wanna-have-fun setup and the sheep that is his oh-grow-up denouement is like a steak knife and butter knife trying to spoon. It’s hopeless. And really funny.

Schumer and Hader generate not heat but warmth, the X factor of classic romantic comedy. (As did Catherine Keener and Steve Carell in Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” but, alas, not Katherine Heigl in and Seth Rogen in “Knocked Up.”) One of Apatow’s nice directorial touches is how Amy and Aaron visibly change each other. She revs him up and he calms her down. When they’re together, there is balance in the movie’s energy.

Likewise a balance in their physiognomy. Both leads possess great comedy faces that are even greater in their apposition. Schumer has the miniature features of a kewpie doll and Hader the oversized beetle brows and goldfish eyes of some exotic amphibian.

While I appreciate how Schumer wants to show Amy and Aaron both on the job and at play, there is the sense that the workplace sequences exist mostly to reassure certain demographics that they are invited to the party. Amy works at male lifestyle mag S’Nuff (signaling to certain women, hey, a fashion mag, like “The Devil Wears Prada”). Her boss is Dianna (Tilda Swinton, hilariously bewigged and made up to resemble a drag-queen Julie Christie). Aaron’s patients, played by James and Stoudemire, are his closest chums, signaling to certain men that this, like “Jerry Maguire,” is not really a romantic comedy but a sports movie. And signaling to African-Americans that, yes, there are blacks in this film. OK, but who knew LeBron James was such a winning comic straight man?

Admittedly, I was reassured in a sequence where Aaron takes Amy to a Knicks game. When the Knicks cheerleaders come out to perform, the look of horror on Amy’s face is a pretty good sight gag. Even better is the sound gag that follows, Amy blurting to the cheer posse, “[Ladies], you’re gonna lose us the right to vote.”

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