‘Trainwreck’: Taking the local to comedy

July 15, 2015

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Let me start by saying two things:

I think Amy Schumer is one of the funniest humans around.

I also think Judd Apatow is one of the most overrated comedy directors of our time.

To my mind, “Trainwreck” is both a very funny movie — and yet another example of Apatow’s inability to edit himself. Like every movie he’s made, this one has several big laughs — and could easily be 20 minutes shorter. 

Like all the films that hail from Apatown, “Trainwreck” offers a heady mix of the romantic and the vulgar. Working from a script that Schumer wrote, it’s a female-oriented tale of the inability to commit, with a dose of low self-esteem as the subtext.

Schumer plays Amy, a hotshot magazine writer in New York who likes sex, but not the touchy-feely emotions that accompany it. She has a strict “no sleepover” rule for the men she hooks up with and can’t quite fathom what her younger sister Kim (Brie Larson) sees in her doofus husband (a very funny Mike Birbiglia) or marriage in general.

Then her hilariously shallow boss (an unrecognizable and wonderful Tilda Swinton) gives her an uncharacteristic assignment: a profile on a sports-medicine doctor to the all-stars. His name is Aaron (Bill Hader) and he not only can claim LeBron James as his best friend, but he’s a genuinely sweet and funny guy who falls for Amy.

Which, of course, is a huge red flag for her. Her own sense of self-worth is low enough that she doesn’t trust the idea that someone could actually care about her for herself. So she’s convinced herself — after subtle brainwashing from her philandering father (Colin Quinn) — that monogamy is for saps, out of the fear that letting herself care about someone is a recipe for getting hurt.

That’s the set-up for a brisk, funny 90-minute rom-com, which this film provides. Unfortunately, those 90 minutes are trapped inside a slack two-hour movie marred by the usual Apatow excesses: an overreliance on extended riffing, random digressions and the use of unexpected real-life stars (such as James and Amar’e Stoudemire) as a diversion from the fact that the story has ground to a halt so the audience can say, “Look what a good sport LeBron is.”

At this point, Schumer is an unstoppable force of nature, bestriding the comic world like a colossus. She’s fast, funny and to the point on her TV show — but for her first film, she’d have done better with a director who understands Shakespeare’s dictum that brevity is the soul of wit. If Apatow had made a movie with the young Henny Youngman, he’d have turned him into the king of the two-liners.

I will give Apatow props as someone with an amazing eye for talent and a wonderful way of drawing huge laughs from grossly personal moments. If he would add even a modicum of restraint to a sensibility that seems to think that every joke anyone in his cast thinks of deserves to be seen, he might make a comedy that doesn’t feel bloated and self-indulgent.

Schumer and Hader have delightful chemistry; like his former “SNL” castmate Jason Sudeikis, Hader is a Stealth missile of comedy, able to play it straight even while subverting that calm surface with sly wit.

The rest of the cast holds its own, including Quinn, Dave Attell (as a homeless person who harangues people in front of Amy’s apartment) and Swinton, who steals every scene she’s in. James has game, but his moments with Hader are funny without being funny enough to distract from the stunt-casting.

“Trainwreck” establishes Amy Schumer as a genuine movie star, capable of carrying an entire comedy — and of writing one. Take 20 minutes out of this film and you’d have a comedy classic.

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