Trainwreck is a movie about two people that is bursting with a lot of other people. Most of those other people and their stories aren't necessary (and a couple are maddening in their randomness). I want to criticize Trainwreck for its lack of focus, but everything is so good. Trainwreck basically succeeds as a portrait of life while failing as a romantic comedy.
Why should it matter where the comedy comes from, as long as it’s funny? Think of the difference between Trainwreck and When Harry Met Sally.
In Trainwreck, Amy Schumer writes for a hip magazine staffed by other colorful characters. She is assigned a story on a famous sports surgeon played by Bill Hader, who has revolutionized knee replacement surgery for pro athletes. To paraphrase Hader’s character, they like each other a lot and start dating.
*In When Harry Met Sally*, Meg Ryan is also a journalist. Billy Crystal's job? "Consultant."
We never see him consulting. Does he freelance? Who does he consult for? With? What is Meg Ryan’s beat? Does she get along with her editor?
And their friends. Schumer works for eccentric editor Tilda Swinton and with Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, and Randall Park. Their office could be a TV show. Bill Hader is friends with LeBron James. I won’t make a big deal of it because the movie barely does. He fits right in there and plays off Hader like a legit improviser.
Schumer has a family too. A dad in a nursing home who hordes his pills, and a devoted sister with a doormat husband and a weird kid.
(This is still a romantic comedy.)
Back to WHMS. Harry has a best pal played by Bruno Kirby. Sally’s friend is played by Carrie Fisher. Kirby and Fisher are sounding boards for Ryan and Crystal, and they eventually hook up and move in together, contrasting against Harry and Sally’s slowly building relationship. That’s it for their personal history. We never meet Harry, Sr. or Great Aunt Sally.
I’ve never missed not knowing more about the world and characters of When Harry Met Sally. I don’t care less about them because I don’t know if they got the Nelson account.
Look, I’m not saying a movie has to be like another movie. But Trainwreck has more stuff than a romantic comedy knows what to do with (and I haven’t even gotten to *The Dog Walker*). The extra detail ultimately softens the story, and keeps it a movie I'll watch 20 minutes of when it's on TV, as opposed to a classic I've revisit again and again.
To look at it from another aspect of When Harry Met Sally, at the end Crystal and Ryan get together on New Year’s Eve to finally tell each other what they mean to one another. The movie has been building carefully to this wonderful catharsis. At the end of Trainwreck, Schumer joins the Knicks cheerleading squad. The scene is hilarious by itself but it doesn’t answer any of the movie’s questions. Can a promiscuous person be monogamous? Should they want to be? Can you work through the pain in your past and be present for the people you love? Will The Dog Walker dominate the Independent Spirit Awards?
I don’t mean to overlook the performances and the comedy. Mike Birbiglia does a great job as a dumb husband. When I heard Brie Larson would be in this, I wondered if there would be enough for her to do; but she’s great as Schumer’s responsible younger sister. Colin Quinn being age-appropriate to play a near-senior citizen in an assisted living facility kind of snuck up on me. Of course’s he’s Amy Schumer’s dad, he’s perfect. Tilda Swinton has made a career of confounding people’s expectations and does it again here. Jon Glaser should be in everything. This cast takes turns stealing the movie from each other.
But why was Amar’e Stoudemire in the movie? It’s weird that a second athlete comes into the movie so late. It should be LeBron getting the knee operation from Bill Hader. Perhaps there’s the rub; LeBron probably couldn’t make the schedule work so they put in Stoudemire. Or maybe it was the other way around? It works okay but would have worked better, and given James a better part – they’re not only friends, James needs Hader to be happy in his personal life so he won’t screw up LeBron’s knee. That I, who have never watched an entire professional basketball game, would need LeBron James to be in this movie more speaks to his talent; he’s one of the best things in the movie. You could almost say he steals the movie, had I not already played my "steals the movie" card a paragraph ago.
Whatever its flaws, Trainwreck does get the nature of relationships right. I have been both of these characters in relationships in my life. I’ve been the calm eye of the storm for someone, and I’ve been a mess someone else had to clean up. That’s life. That’s what’s great about Judd Apatow. He tries to put life up on the screen. Life is problematic. People really make the mistakes that Amy Schumer and Bill Hader make in this movie. People are in fact irresponsible and/or unconsciously controlling. People don’t stop being themselves because they meet someone they love. (Quinn’s character, the film’s embodiment of unapologetic selfdom, dies amidst destructive behaviors he was unable and unwilling to correct.) Trainwreck is trying to say other people change our trajectory but not our personality. It doesn’t actually get there but that was the thesis, I think. Maybe movies don’t have to be a perfect reflection of our values. Movies can be as fucked up as we actually are.
One thing. Right when Amy Schumer and Bill Hader have fallen in love; there is a “in love in New York City” montage pulled right from Manhattan, including a quote of the iconic shot of the couple sitting at a bench looking out at the 59th Street Bridge. Judd Apatow is so great at showcasing the characters, to a fault even, that to suddenly lean on a visual quote from another director was a shame.
See, I can’t stop giving this movie - at which I laughed all the way through - a hard time.
And speaking of The Dog Walker. That’s the fake movie in the world of Trainwreck. Schumer and her date go to see it, there are posters and other clips all throughout. Daniel Radcliffe is the titular dog walker who falls in love with Marisa Tomei in Central Park. It’s shot in black & white and every successive clip has the pair surrounded by more and more tiny dogs. Sure, it’s funny. But it’s only there so people on Twitter will say, “I’d see that movie! #thedogwalker” I wanted to see Trainwreck, not some cameo parody. Amy Schumer and Bill Hader were game with great chemistry. I’m sure they’ll both be back in other romantic comedies. Most of the time, this one has room for everyone but them.