For good and ill, “Trainwreck” has most of the hallmarks of director Judd Apatow’s previous work. There’s the scatological banter, the healthy clip of hilarious jokes, the distant imperfect father character, the awkward sex scenes, the protagonist who slowly but inevitably matures, the sprawling cast of rising comedians, and the tendency for both scenes and the movie itself to drag unnecessarily long.
The big difference, of course, is that playing the Steve Carell/Seth Rogen part is… Amy Schumer, Apatow’s first female protagonist, who’s also credited with the screenplay. And it’s a triumph all around- Apatow’s best film in years.
In the time since the film was shot- and its ad campaign has been ubiquitous for a good six months- Schumer has emerged as American comedy’s voice of the moment, the subject of daily thinkpieces about everything from feminism to body image to race. Now she’s something else- a movie star.
While different enough from Schumer’s standup and sketch work that it doesn’t feel been-there, done-that, Schumer’s character here is a version of her established persona: She plays a Manhattan magazine journalist given to overindulgence in sex, drinking and various other vices. Taught early on by her father (Colin Quinn) that “monogamy isn’t realistic,” Schumer resents her married sister (Brie Larson) and angles for a promotion at work (working for “Devil Wears Prada”-like editrix Tilda Swinton, totally unrecognizable in a wig and spray tan.)
She soon meets Aaron (Bill Hader), a nice-guy sports physician who represents security and stability, thus scaring Schumer out of her mind. And probably the best idea in the whole movie is that Hader’s best friend, rather than Rob Corddry or Ken Marino is… LeBron James, playing himself with absolutely impeccable comic timing.
The laughs here are plentiful, largely from Schumer, although she spreads the wealth quite a bit, to a cast that goes 30 or 40 deep. There are non-actors, like James and WWE star John Cena, who steals multiple scenes as a steakhead boyfriend. There are comedians, like Quinn, Dave Attell, and Mike Birbiglia, sitcom vets like Jon Glaser and Randall Park, and current-gen SNLers like Vanessa Bayer, Leslie Jones and Pete Davidson. Ezra Miller, so mesmerizing in “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” has a weird sex scene that had me cackling. Hader, oddly enough, is maybe the funniest person in the whole cast, but is largely relegated to straight-man duty.
I was especially impressed with Quinn, always much more a comedian than actor, who’s playing the latest in a string of imperfect fathers in Apatow movies (in the tradition of George Coe in “Funny People” and Albert Brooks and John Lithgow in “This is 40.”) Apatow, meanwhile, keeps things moving well. While long at exactly two hours, this one’s still leaner than “Funny People” or “This is 40.”
No, the movie’s not perfect by any stretch. Schemer’s big eureka moment feels somewhat like a copout, and the film, like every Apatow or Farelly Brothers comedy to date, reaches the safe conclusion that traditional monogamy is the way to go. There’s a pretty huge plot hole, in that nobody seems to mind that Schumer is openly dating Hader while writing a magazine profile of him, which is especially weird when a completely different ethical breach becomes a problem.
There’s one scene, featuring cameos by Matthew Broderick, Chris Evert and Marv Albert, that isn’t funny and makes no sense whatsoever; it’s as if they all showed up on set one day, improvised unsuccessfully, and Apatow threw the failed first take into the finished film anyway. It’s never explained why LeBron James, who plays for Cleveland, is in New York virtually all the time. And the movie’s biggest stretch of the truth, by far, is that Amare Stoudamire comes back successfully from a knee injury to once again play for the New York Knicks.
Nevertheless, “Trainwreck” is consistently hilarious, and cements Amy Schumer as big-screen star. Another past Apatow star, Katherine Heigl, followed up “Knocked Up” with a string of starring romcom roles; I’ve got a feeling Schumer’s next several films will be much better.