Anchored by Amy Schumer’s comedic brio, Trainwreck brings warmth and sharp humor to taboo subjects like sex and death. It reveals Schumer’s talents as a writer, actress, and comic but simultaneously showcases the current limitations of the modern love genre.
Trainwreck revolves around Amy Townsend, a thirtysomething magazine writer who works hard, parties harder, and has serious commitment issues. She’s mastered the art of dating men without getting attached, a behavior that subverts the standard trope of men casually dating women without getting attached. Her fun, blase attitude towards men supposedly stems from a lesson that her father inculcated into her at a young age—the film opens with him telling her and her sister that monogamy isn’t realistic. Trainwreck divides its time evenly between Amy’s various gaffes with her boss, string of men, and family. While begrudgingly working on an assignment, Amy falls for her subject Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a straightlaced sports doctor with a nerdy boyish charm. At the same time, she balances this newfound love interest with family drama between her traditional sister and jerkish father whose MS has significantly progressed.
I suppose that I have a soft spot for Amy, who’s a scrappy female journalist that’s less than perfect. She’s a bit of Nola Darling and a lot of Bridget Jones. That’s to say, a wonderfully complicated female character whose shortcomings are as convincing as her warmth. I also have a soft spot for Bill Hader as Aaron Conners. Hader’s Aaron is achingly sincere, an edged up bumbling Hugh Grant romcom character for contemporary times. That said, given what we’ve seen from Hader’s performance on Saturday Night Live, I do feel like we could’ve seen even more depth to his character.
There’s something about films and shows on modern relationships (like Girls and Love) that feels ingratiating to me from time to time. I think of the character of Bojack Horseman, who recognizes his terrible behavior and recognizes that he recognizes his terrible behavior. He knows that this doesn’t make him a better person (er horse) and continues to repeat the offensive behavior compulsively. While self-actualization is satirical on Bojack Horseman, it’s typically the goal in many stories about modern love. And it’s done with such honesty that it almost feels like these films and shows allow the characters to get away with their dubious behavior without ramifications. I couldn’t help but think about this looking back on Amy’s sordid (and illegal) encounter with her intern and her absurdly unprofessional relationship with Aaron. I suppose empathy is the goal. But empathy and accountability are seldom mutually exclusive.
Many modern love stories also drive me insane in their portrayal of race and gender. For example, there are many jokes about Asians and Black people throughout the film, and many of them do not land and do not do anything to advance the narrative of the film. I’m not against edgy humor that pushes boundaries (Ali Wong! Tiffany Haddish!) but I am hesitant about humor for the sake of humor, especially when it uncritically diminishes entire groups of people. In terms of gender, one of my biggest pet peeves is when love stories end with the career girl getting the guy and we don’t know anything about what happens to her career afterward. This is how Trainwreck ends. This is how Bridget Jones’s Baby ends. Sure, Amy does this sweet, hilarious grand romantic gesture thing and gets her piece published in Vanity Fair. But what happens to her career? Did it stop mattering because she got the guy back? For a two hour comedy that’s supposed to be about subverting conventions of female portrayals on the screen, the film relies on a lot of regressive stereotypes.
Trainwreck will satisfy romantic comedy lovers with its warm, yet prickly humor and natural chemistry between the romantic leads. Still, I’m hesitant to wholeheartedly embrace the film as feminist or progressive merely because it features a complicated woman.