No matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, the temptation is mighty to always ascribe cinematic authorship primarily (even solely) to the director. There’s good cause for that. Studying the filmographies of everyone from genuine artists like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese to abominable hacks like Brett Ratner and Michael Bay suggest just how much a director owns the final vision on the screen. On occasion, though, the genealogy of a film can be a little trickier than that. Trainwreck is unmistakably a Judd Apatow movie, maintaing the flavor and messiness of the director’s four prior features. But it also belongs to star and screenwriter Amy Schumer, who based at least some of the emotional conflict in the film on challenges from her own life. The two creators are clearly symbiotic, which is simultaneously Trainwreck‘s great strength and its hobbling weakness.
In the film, Schumer plays Amy, a staff writer at a morally bankrupt high gloss magazine specializing in slimy sex articles and callous celebrity takedowns. Amy’s editor (Tilda Swinton, in a blisteringly funny performance) assigns her a piece on a local sports doctor (Bill Hader) who is closing in on revolutionary surgery and has a fleet of famous athletes under his care to prove his notoriety within his field. Scarred by her parents divorcing when she was young and beholden to a beloved father (Colin Quinn) who was and is a deeply challenging person, Amy approaches her personal life with a recklessness intended to keep anyone and anything serious at a distance. That instinctive plan is upended when she starts up a romance with the doctor, creating a level of stability that does always sit easily with her. Like a lot of other romantic comedies, then, Trainwreck is about the process of growing up, leaving the wounded parts of self behind to be a better person in pursuit of true love. It follows well-established patterns, up to and including the ludicrously improbably grand gesture to win someone back, but does so with a bracing, fearless messiness that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent even a little bit of time with Schumer’s stand-up or her Comedy Central sketch comedy show.
That propensity for productively challenging crassness is one of qualities that unites Schumer and Apatow. Less fortuitously, they also share a conviction to leave no joke behind. Like most Apatow films, Trainwreck is at least twenty minutes too long, and, also as usual, it’s not difficult to see where it could have and probably should have been cut. The prime offenders, already often cited by others, are a cameo-laden scene in which LeBron James stages an intervention for Hader’s character (James, as the doctor’s best friend, is very good in the rest of the movie) and a phony art film starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei that crops a couple of times. Those are just the chunks that could come out whole. There are countless other scenes that drift on too long or even include a couple superfluous, achingly unfunny punchlines. It’s bad enough that all this bogs down the film, but it does something even more damaging. The broader the comedy gets, the most it detracts from the genuinely affecting story thread Schumer has wrapped around the film’s core.
It’s like the film itself falls prey the lead character’s need to keep the serious, mature choices at bay. It can’t fail if it doesn’t try. Trainwreck is enjoyable. Had the filmmakers learned the same lessons about ruthless self-assessment that Amy comes to, it could have been borderline great.