Amy Schumer Owns Sharp, Riotous "Trainwreck"

It might seem strange that writer-director and comedy virtuoso Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) would relinquish screenwriting duties on his fifth movie to a first-timer, but Amy Schumer isn’t just any rookie.

The stand-up comedienne’s anarchic, promiscuous stage persona and hit Comedy Central sketch show have made her film debut preordained. And Apatow – known as much for talent cultivation as humor – is an ideal candidate to shepherd her voice to the big screen.

Schumer’s comedy isn’t a great match for the rom-com blueprint that “Trainwreck” follows, but that’s the point. In sticking to a boy-meets-girl relationship movie model while tirelessly avoiding cliché, Schumer has uncovered something distinct. Alive.

Like the character she inhabits onstage, the Amy she plays in “Trainwreck” is a liberally dramatized version of herself. As a successful but unfulfilled magazine writer, the fictional Amy has begun to wallow in her own romantic foibles. Unsatisfied by her current relationship with an insecure meathead (professional wrestler John Cena), she sleeps around with purpose, resigned to a life of emotional emptiness.

From a less astute writer, this might come off as limiting or even sexist, but Schumer makes the character nothing less than authoritative. She is strong in her weakness, flawed but self-aware and healthily multi-dimensional.

Once she’s assigned to interview Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), orthopedist to the stars, the two hit it off. But very, very slowly. The garden-variety sparks between the two are refreshing, with the screenplay allowing their romance to bloom as real life romances tend to do.

Stocked with a dream supporting cast – Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, Ezra Miller, Mike Birbilia, Colin Quinn, and more – the film is screamingly funny. Its jokes are inexhaustible, like an interrupted flow of supercharged laughing gas.

But more than that, said jokes aren’t just the kind of random improv that’s marked much of Apatow’s work. Many of the gags in “Trainwreck” are intricately constructed, like Amy sifting through her father’s old belongings, building to a breathlessly funny reaction shot. Or a climactic dance sequence that sublimely serves the pic’s comedy, romance, and star all at once.

It’s terrific that the film gets huge laughs from both John Cena and NBA superstar LeBron James (as himself), but it’s almost immaterial. Schumer is the movie, superseding the talent around her at every turn. Even Apatow, who likely wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Like all of Apatow’s work, the pic sags in the middle and features a couple of curious missteps – a lone mid-movie voiceover is especially unwelcome – but Schumer’s comedic voice is crisp and clear enough to sustain. If she can work these kinds of wonders in her first film, imagine what she might do the second or third or tenth time around.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Good)

Release Date: July 17, 2015
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Judd Apatow
Screenwriter: Amy Schumer
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James, John Cena, Ezra Miller, Mike Birbiglia
MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use)