You know the story: Career-minded, hard-drinking veteran of too many one-night stands, taught at an early age that monogamy is for suckers, falls for the perfect mate at just around the time it’s becoming clear that growing old by yourself makes for a lousy life plan. Any number of romantic comedies since the dawn of time have seen the brash Lothario fall into the tender trap of Miss Right, but “Trainwreck” puts the formula on its ear by making Dr. Right a man while the promiscuous party animal is — gasp — a woman.
That this particular woman happens to have been written and portrayed by Amy Schumer goes a long way toward making this sharp, funny film more than just a mere switcheroo of longstanding gender roles. Her scathing, brilliant Comedy Central series “Inside Amy Schumer” takes a scalpel toward prevailing attitudes about sexuality and relationships, and while her debut as a screenwriter and leading lady doesn’t quite reach the outrageous heights of her TV work, “Trainwreck” remains hilarious and provocative, heralding what we can only hope will be a pot-stirring new voice on the big screen.
Schumer stars as Amy, a Manhattan magazine journalist whose high tolerance for tequila shots is matched only by her utter disinterest in settling down. As a child, her father (Colin Quinn) told Amy and her sister (played as an adult by Brie Larson) on his way out the door that monogamy is untenable, and that life lesson stuck to Amy but not to her sister, who’s happily married and raising her stepson.
Reluctantly accepting an assignment to interview New York City’s hottest sports doctor Aaron (Bill Hader), Amy finds herself so charmed by this sweet, dorky guy that after she perfunctorily seduces him, she allows herself to be talked into sleeping over, usually a no-no for her. As he gets serious and she grows increasingly antsy, can this wild child put aside her fears and turn herself into a one-man woman?
That question resides firmly in the wheelhouse of director Judd Apatow, whose work as a filmmaker in the new millennium has addressed the coming-of-age (or at least the coming-of-thirties) from various angles. “Trainwreck” highlights his best and worst instincts as a filmmaker — on the down side, he apparently still can’t trim down to a manageable running time, yielding scenes that go on too long or lead nowhere particularly interesting. (Actress Becky Ann Baker, a veteran of Apatow TV productions “Girls” and “Freaks and Geeks,” appears in one scene with no dialogue, implying she probably played a major character who wound up completely excised — and the movie still runs long.)
Where Apatow shines is in his comic staging, spotlighting Schumer and Hader’s facility with both verbal and physical humor and eliciting consistently big laughs from everything including splashy set pieces to muttered asides. And as we’ve seen in earlier Apatow efforts like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “Funny People,” the director shares Preston Sturges’ love of a deep comedy bench; “Trainwreck” delivers a densely packed but never overcrowded army of second bananas, possibly one of the most eclectic ones in the history of cinema.
Where else could Tilda Swinton (hilariously crass in spray tan and blue eye shadow) share billing with 100-year-old movie legend Norman Lloyd, pro wrestler John Cena (as a friend with benefits who’s blissfully unaware of his repressed sexuality), a gaggle of “SNL” vets and stand-up comics, and LeBron James, the latter showing surprising skill as Aaron’s friend and confidant? (It’s the kind of sassy and supportive best-pal role that less imaginative directors would dump on Schumer in a standard-issue rom-com.) Even if it turns out that the NBA star has only one octave’s worth of acting talent, Apatow helps James hit every single note in his range.
“Trainwreck” ultimately comes down in favor of mainstream girl-gets-boy in a way that “Inside Amy Schumer” might find a little dubious, but it never feels like Schumer is aggressively watering down her uniquely prickly brand of comedy for a mass audience. She never stoops, but still she conquers.