by Brian Surber
Something magical happens when an entire audience connects on a film, when the experience is being shared by everyone in the theater to the fullest extent. It happens when everyone gasps and screams during a horror film or when everyone claps during an action film when the good guy escapes from the exploding building by parasailing from the roof. But, for me at least, the most magical experience of all comes during a perfect comedy. The laughs are so loud, so in sync, and last so long that you miss the next lines of dialogue. When you can look around the theater and see a sea of smiles and watery eyes – that is the best movie-going experience. And not since Bridesmaids have I been a part of such an experience. Trainwreck is not only the best comedy of the year and one of the best films of the year, but it’s without a doubt, in a crowded theater, the best experience you are sure to have this summer.
Written by and starring, with gusto on both accounts, Amy Schumer, Trainwreck follows a woman in New York who thinks she has it all. She loves her job, her friends, her drinks; she sleeps around with guys even while she’s seeing someone; she has it all figured out. The basic plot follows Amy getting assigned to write a piece for her men’s magazine about an up-and-coming sports doctor played by Bill Hader. They fall in love. It’s a simple plot that works in the film’s favor in two ways. One, it flips the formula for romantic comedies, making the female protagonist the screw-up who thinks she has her life together only to figure out they don’t. And two, the relatively easy plot allows, not only for comedic scenes to evolve organically (a director Judd Apatow staple), but more well-explored character work that comes from an obvious sincerity.
For a first time screenplay by Schumer, this is interesting stuff. We learn from the opening scene that Amy (the main character’s name, probably to make it easier) has grown up with these ideologies because her father (a surprisingly heartbreaking Colin Quinn) lived his life this way. He slept around on Amy and her sister’s mother and this has caused a realistic divide in the siblings. Amy lives life the way her father did and therefore is more sympathetic toward him; while her sister Kim (the wonderful, as always, Brie Larson) resents him and would like to have as little to do with him as possible. It’s a very interesting dynamic and an authentic reaction to the way they were brought up. It’s a summation of the fantastic writing and Larson’s performance that we can feel and piece together the personality of Kim and Amy’s mother even though we never see her.
Not only is the character work grounded and well-drawn but the film is flat-out hysterical. Scenes burst and crackle with energy and raw comedy, and all of them hit. ALL OF THEM. Judd Apatow, the best comedy director in the biz since ’05, mixes his gentle hand with Schumer’s abrasive comedy. What’s great about this collaboration is how it utilizes both comedic styles. Apatow lets his scenes live in their moments; that means no quick cuts and beginnings, middles, and ends. The genius of his direction for Trainwreck is how he doesn’t adapt to Schumer’s comedy style, he simply creates a house, the same house he uses for all his films, and allows Schumer’s comedy to live and breathe in it. It’s a wonderful and fruitful combination. And it’s great to see, since this is the first film Apatow directed without writing, that his vision and filmmaking technique remain a part of his film DNA.
Trainwreck also benefits from the best cast of the year. In addition to Schumer, Larson, Quinn and Hader (who is excellent, and should now be comedy’s go to leading man/ love interest) we get outstanding turns from: Tilda Swinton (seemingly having the most fun ever), Ezra Miller, Vanessa Bayer, Mike Birbiglia, Dave Attell, Randall Park, Jon Glaser, Norman Lloyd, Method Man, and two surprise cameos in a movie-within-a-movie that I won’t give away. It’s a dream cast of diverse actors who seem to be relishing the chance to be a part of this film. The two standouts of the supporting cast, however, belong to two professional athletes.
John Cena nearly steals the show as Schumer’s current boyfriend. He practically owns the first 15 minutes of the film and is surprisingly funny and even more surprisingly realistic in his acting. He is outrageously funny. I say Cena nearly steals the show because he is overshadowed by someone who is no stranger to overshadowing. LeBron James absolutely destroys this film. The best active basketball player alive more than holds his own against the comedy big-wigs with whom he shares the screen. Playing himself he opens himself up to critique as he pokes fun at his current public image. Not only is he hysterical in the film but he’s actually in quite a bit of it, which only adds to the fun of seeing him in his first film role. He has fantastic timing and quite a career as a comedic actor if this whole basketball thing doesn’t end up working out.
But the real winner here is Schumer. With Trainwreck, she has written a screenplay that is tight, funny, and purposefully character driven. She has turned in a lead performance of a woman we know is doing wrong but are with her the whole way through. She is a cinematic powerhouse her first time out and she is destined to have a very bright future on the big screen.
Trainwreck is crowd-pleasing and laugh-out-loud hilarious. It is the perfect time at the movies and reminds us why we go on those opening weekends at 7:00pm. A big, smart, honest, sexy, rollicking, ferocious, and joyous time at the movies, Trainwreck is a consummate comedy. It continues Judd Apatow’s streak of fantastic human comedies (it’s currently nestled somewhere between The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Funny People) and, more importantly, it begins Amy Schumer’s streak as a cinematic force to be reckoned with.