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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Trainwreck

Fortunately NOT living up to its title...


After Judd Apatow's last directorial effort, the narcissistic, whinging, unrelatable and thoroughly unlikable This is 40, you'll excuse me for not expecting very much from his latest slice of R-rated comedy-drama. And, to be honest, for the first fifteen minutes of Trainwreck, I became more and more worried that my low expectations were going to be met. Fortunately though, once the film finds its rhythm - interestingly, precisely the point at which Bill Hader first appears on screen - it settles into becoming a genuinely funny and heartfelt romantic comedy, with two particularly great characters at its centre.

Mind you, it's pretty surprising that Apatow actually directed Trainwreck, as its the only film of his that he hasn't had an active hand in writing. Either way though, this certainly explains why it is such a departure from This is 40 and seems to pick up right where Bridesmaid's (and, oddly enough, Celeste and Jesse Forever) left off.

We once again have a deeply flawed, female protagonist, played by an actress who is very much unafraid of coming across as (theoretically) unlikable, pathetic and deeply, deeply messed up, where the joke is as much on her as it is with her - and yet all of this adding up to a character (and an actress) that we like all the more precisely because of her faults. And, again, this character also happens to be played by the film's screenwriter: in this case, the increasingly prolific Amy Shumer, who makes the jump from stand-up and the small screen to her first major motion picture.

Shumer plays Amy (I know, right?), a young-but-not-that-young journalist who flits from one night stand to the next, even while ostensibly being in a relationship with someone else, thanks to her deep distrust, even seething hatred of anything resembling a committed, monogamous relationship. When she is assigned to write a feature story about a sports doctor (Bill Hader) by her crazed editor (a thoroughly unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) after she expresses her utter contempt for sports and the entire professional sports world, she soon finds her life-long beliefs about love and relationships challenged to their very core.

So far, so many, many rom-coms, right? Actually, not so much. Though Trainwreck does occasionally fall prey to using crude humour as a crutch, rather than because it's, you know, actually funny, it mostly works brilliantly by both playing into rom-com tropes and slyly subverting them at the same time.

For a start, unlike your Meg Ryans or Katherine Heigls, Shumer plays her character as prickly, abrasive and about as far from the "romantic sweetheart" archetype that you could hope to find. Yet, at the same time, thanks to some very astute writing and a real sense of cuteness (sorry, I know "cute" is extremely condescending but, in this case at least, it's oddly accurate) to her performance, she is nonetheless immensely likable and compelling a character.

Similarly, Bill Hader gets to play a rather different kind of "Mr Right", coming across as incredibly likeable and basically a good dude, to be sure, but is also kind of nerdy and a bit of an oddball, who nonetheless isn't afraid of standing up to Amy's crap. While you could easily see why Amy might want to change her ways for him, as his basic decency is backed up with a similarly caustic sense of humour, he is never just a McGuffin for Amy's character growth or some perfect fantasy.  

Despite both Hader and Shumer's impressive comedy backgrounds, they impress every bit as much in the film's more poignant, dramatic moments. They are certainly funny, though. Shumer has become the world's most well-known and beloved (and, to be fair, occasionally loathed) female comic and her work here only further cements her status, while Hader continues to impress as a surprisingly subtle comedic talent, both of whom, though, bring a real edge, even a sense of melancholy, to their comedy that makes it a pretty perfect fit for the film's more serious moments.

Indeed, in many ways, it's up to the rest of the case to bring the broader laughs, which may be fairly typical of your average romantic comedy, except that by far the funniest members of the supporting cast are none other than Tilda Swinton and a couple of sports personalities, John Cena and, would you know it, Lebron James! I could sort of see it with Swinton who has actually been very funny in a whole bunch of films, despite her status as "very serious actor" but Lebron James? Yup, can't say I saw that coming.

But then, that's really part of the many pleasures of Trainwreck. Yes, it's unforgivably long (125 minutes? For a comedy?!), it starts pretty slow (funny flashback to Amy's youth aside) and some of the cruder jokes really fall flat, but it's a smart, surprising, funny and heartfelt romantic comedy that may not exactly rewrite the playbook but at least manages to add a few lines of its own. And, yes, this is by seven million miles, the best Judd Apatow film since the 40 Year Old Virgin.

Trainwreck? Not by half.


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