Watching Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck,” I had the same feeling I had at Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids” five years ago (or Martin Brest’s “Beverly Hills Cop” 30 years ago): revelation.
Here is the best face of American movie comedy at this moment in time. Amy Schumer – this year’s Kristen Wiig – stars as Amy, a Manhattan men’s magazine writer with addictions to alcohol, weed, and meaningless sex. Schumer owes much of her comic style to the stand-up comedienne Wendy Liebman (worth checking out on YouTube), who delivers an eminently reasonable line, pauses, then mutters under her breath an unexpected follow-up: “I would never do that…[beat]…again. I wouldn’t…” The style – which I like – translates surprisingly well to film, keeping us engaged lest we miss a dropped shoe. It also serves the character well, assuring us this emotionally stunted woman has the smarts she’ll need to get on (and that we’ll need to root for her).
What distinguishes these terrific recent comedies (which also include this year’s “Spy”) is not just the female sensibility of Schumer and Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. (“Hot Pursuit” showed us earlier this year that a brain-dead road comedy isn’t one whit better for having female leads.) Rather, it’s the richness of the script, the number of well-drawn and funny supporting characters. No matter how strong the lead, a one-person show eventually wears thin. Scrolling down the long cast list of “Trainwreck,” I shook my head delightedly at name after name, remembering the scenes, lines, facial expressions they contributed. That’s what it takes to build the waves of laughter you hear pouring out of the theater.
Bill Hader plays Dr. Aaron Conners, a sports physician with a long list of celebrity clients and the subject of Amy’s new article. (Her editor – a brusque, jaded Zanna Roberts Rassi type brought to hilarious life by an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton – assigns Amy the profile precisely because she knows nothing about sports.) Hader doesn’t get to flex the acting muscles he showed as Wiig’s suicidal gay brother in last year’s “The Skeleton Twins,” but he does something more helpful to his career: appeals as a romcom co-star. He’s not “dreamboaty,” as Rebecca Keegan suggested in the L.A. Times. No, he’s adorkable in that gangly white-guy way - like John Isner.
Amy’s serial monogamy and string of one-night stands (which give rise to much of the R-rated film’s deliciously raunchy humor) leave her ill-placed to recognize what a catch Aaron can be for her. It takes a major life event and the help of several athletic legends – and perhaps 15 or 20 minutes too much runtime - to bring them together in the end. But then I think about Colin Quinn, and Brie Larson, and Mike Birbiglia, and John Cena, and Randall Park, and Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei, and Vanessa Bayer, and Dave Attell (as the homeless guy outside Amy’s building; when she brings him a box of liquor and prescription pills, he exults, “Wow, booze, drugs and a place to live!”), and a thoroughly creditable LeBron James. And Mae West, who said “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
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