Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: "Trainwreck"

The difference between writing for sketch comedy and doing a feature-length comedy script stretches wider than the Grand Canyon. Sketches rely on a quick set-up/punchline rhythm and absurd concepts, the zanier the better. Making a whole movie is exponentially tougher: you've got to weave the humor into a broader narrative, fashion engaging characters and come up with a satisfying arc for them to journey along.

"Trainwreck," written by and starring Amy Schumer, has a few good individual laughs but fails pretty miserably at the big-picture stuff.

It's essentially a two-hour-long iteration of the quasi-autobiographical version of herself Schumer presents in her standup routine and television show: hedonistic, hard-partying girl who loves to sleep around and mocks the idea of commitment. It's made for a lot of winning gags for TV, with Schumer's sly intelligence and feminist undertones percolating through the laughs.

There are three or four decent scenes like that in "Trainwreck," but the connective tissue in between is tough to wade through. The answer that Schumer and director Judd Apatow seem to have to come up with is to feature well-known actors or celebrities in punchy minor roles to spice up the dull patches. It works a little, but only a little.

You've probably heard that NBA superstar LeBron James plays himself in the movie, as a patient of wunderkind sports surgeon Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Amy is Amy, a writer at a Neanderthal men's magazine called "Snap" who's been assigned to profile the doc, despite knowing exactly zilch about sports.

For instance, we're supposed to laugh at the notion that Amy has no idea who LeBron is when he pops into Aaron's office while she's meeting him. Except you'd have to have lived underground since birth not to recognize King James. In a common refrain in comedies these days, LeBron plays a goofy version of himself. Here, he's a cheapskate who insists on splitting the lunch bill and pals around with dweeby doctors.

Tilda Swinton plays Amy's boss, who has an abundance of confidence and a paucity of taste; Brie Larson is her younger, wiser sister; Colin Quinn plays their father, a philanderer who taught them "monogamy is unrealistic"; Ezra Miller is the impressionable young intern with a dark side; Mike Birbiglia is the kind-yet-dull brother-in-law; John Cena shows up -- and flashes a lot of skin -- as Amy's initial 'roided-up boyfriend; Amar'e Stoudemire portrays himself as a fictional patient of Aaron's; Dave Attell plays a mouthy panhandler; and Norman Lloyd, a bonafide 100 years of age, twinkles as a sparring partner of Amy's dad at the old folks' home.

One of the chief weaknesses of the movie is that I never bought the romance between Schumer and Hader for even a second. The idea is that Amy, having promptly slept with the guy she's supposed to be profiling, gets unwilling sucked into a relationship with him. But Hader isn't given much to do in the script that would make him endearing to such a wild-and-crazy gal... or anyone. He feels like a personality vacuum who got lucky.

At 125 minutes "Trainwreck" is about a half-hour too long, a near-universal feature of Apatow films that I had previously chalked up to his own undisciplined writing style and apparent unwillingness to hire an editor with any kind of clout. (Someone needs to tell him less is more, and with his style of motormouth comedy, less less is even more more.)

But even with Schumer handling script duties, this movie is still an overstuffed mess with jangled pieces that never really fit together. It's a one-night stand in which the evening grows old, fast.

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