Trainwreck sets out to challenge gender stereotypes with what director Judd Apatow does best: humour. The film marks comedian Amy Schumer’s first stint in both scriptwriting and lead acting. This pays off – Trainwreck is side-splitting throughout. However, after its initial setup, it promptly loses its edginess. What remains is a diverting but relatively tame rom-com.
Amy (Amy Schumer) is a magazine journalist who fully embraces her promiscuity, lining up one fling after next while mocking anyone who aspires to a more conventional family life. Schumer holds down the role brilliantly as a credible combination of selfishness and confidence. Through this premise, the script inverts the usual rom-com tropes: it is the woman who has to be persuaded out of singledom and into a relationship.
The subversion ends there. Amy is assigned to interview an uber-successful sports surgeon, Erin, played by Bill Mader (in a spot-on, sweet and awkward delivery). He persuades her to date him. The film then charts the ups and downs of their relationship, peppered with slapstick gags.
Trainwreck’s plot stalls a little – once Amy and Erin are together it struggles to find a source of conflict to drive the story forward. It dabbles in subplots involving Amy’s family, and while not uninteresting, it is unclear how relevant they are, aside from providing the opportunity to crack jokes. Tilda Swinton as Amy’s delightfully horrid boss is the best of these diversions. Several US sports figures act as Erin’s clients and friends (notably LeBron James). Although their names will be as unknown to foreign audiences as they are to sport-hating Amy, their dynamic is nonetheless amusing to follow. Marisa Tomei and Daniel Radcliffe also cameo in a surreal dog-walking anecdote.
It is disappointing that the film’s initially promising feminist outlook spirals back to the conventional. Trainwreck plays into the Hollywood trope of female journalists sleeping with their interviewees (as denounced last week by Hadley Freeman); Amy is asked to tone down her personality in order to pursue a relationship; most people around her judge her polyamorous lifestyle to be unhealthy; her crucial change of heart involves her accepting cheerleading – something she initially abhorred. What’s more, the script conflates substance abuse and the character’s promiscuity. It is the former that Amy needs to step away from – not necessarily the latter. The film is also surprisingly old-fashioned in other ways – few people today would seek hook-ups solely in clubs, given the range of apps and websites now devoted to that purpose.
Trainwreck packs in quality acting and gags but falls short of its initial ambition to subvert traditional gender norms. Still, it is a solid scriptwriting debut from Schumer, and one of the better recent films in the rom-com genre.