Thursday, July 16, 2015

Amy Schumer's semi-nasty rom-com

In Trainwreck, the spotlight is on a sexually aggressive woman.

Is there anything Tilda Swinton can't do?

In the new Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck, a nearly unrecognizable Swinton plays the crisply aggressive British editor of S'nuff, a trendy New York-based magazine that explores such ludicrous topics as the best ways for men to masturbate at work.

"Pitch me. Pitch Me,'' she goads her staff, looking for topics to satisfy her perverse journalistic appetites.

Swinton's role is parodic, but it leaves you wondering whether she might have added even more sharpness to a movie such as The Devil Wears Prada.

But wait. I already hear the groaning. Why am I talking about an actress who has a tasty supporting role in a comedy starring Schumer, the off-color, feminist-oriented comic who's garnering big-time attention at the moment.

The best answer, I suppose, is that I'm easing into what's going to be a review that resists falling too far on either side of the Schumer fence.

In Trainwreck, Schumer earns a center-stage spot on the big screen, but her movie hits flat spots even as it finds major comic flourishes. Besides, Trainwreck isn't nearly as creative as Schumer's Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer.

In Trainwreck, Schumer plays Amy Townsend, a talented magazine writer who defends herself against emotional involvement by sleeping with just about every man who crosses her path.

Amy has rules about her profligacy. She never spends the night with one of her bedmates. She consumes lovers, and quickly moves on.

That's an interesting (and novel) enough premise for a comedy, and it probably should have carried Trainwreck further than it does.

After all, movies seldom portray women as aggressors in the sexual arena. Amy doesn't make love: She notches conquests.

This approach allows Schumer, who wrote the screenplay, to play to her strengths. In the war-of-the-sexes, her character takes no prisoners.

The movie, which was directed by Judd Apatow, has fun putting Amy in charge of its sometimes scalding narrative.

The most notable of Schumer's early picture assaults revolves around Amy's relationship with a muscle-bound hunk (John Cena) who's too dim to acknowledge his homoerotic impulses. He also can't believe that Amy's interest in him doesn't extend beyond the sack, where his idea of erotic talk has to do with filling her with protein. He makes love to her as if she were an exercise machine.

Amy's life, which also includes excessive alcohol consumption, makes room for encounters with her sister Kim (Brie Larson), a younger woman who's married and who has a stepson, a brainy child who rubs Amy the wrong way. Kim qualifies as the anti-Amy, but the sisters are close.

If there's any psychology here, it revolves around Amy's father (Colin Quinn): He's a bigoted Mets fan who left his wife because he couldn't stand the bondage of monogamy.

A demonstrably rotten father and a worse husband, Quinn's Gordon presumably served as Amy's role model when it comes to men. His philandering evidently paved the way for Amy's lack of trust.

Still, Dad's the person to whom Amy feels closest. When illness forces him to move into an assisted living facility, Amy dotes on him.

So where's all this going? The train wreck that passes for Amy's life eventually takes a predictable turn. In the course of researching a story, she meets a well-regarded sports doctor (Bill Hader).

A bit awkward around women, Hader's character falls for Amy. She falls for him, too, but to make the relationship work, Amy must lower her guard and overcome her indifference to all matters concerning sports.

The movie's love story accomplishes two things: It allows Trainwreck to spend too much of its indulgent 125-minute length chugging into conventional rom-com territory (girl meets boy, girl screws up relationship, girl learns lesson), and it introduces cameos from two basketball players LeBron James (funny) and Amar'e Stoudemire (not so much).

The movie, by the way, is set in New York during a time when Stoudemire was still a Knick. Last I checked, he plays for the Miami Heat.

Much of the humor revolves around sex and reflects Schumer's non-stop attack on feminine cliches and the male ego. And, yes, her humor can be laced with acid.

For the most part, Hader's playing straight man as the movie's romantic lead, a good guy whose patience qualifies as preternatural.

Here's the pivotal point, though. You may find yourself wondering why Hader's Aaron doesn't give up on a woman who seems intent on destroying relationships. Amy can be amusing, but she's not always likable. She's often a pain in the butt.

Apatow (This Is 40, Funny People, Knocked up, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin) doesn't always strike the right balance between the movie's comedy and its occasional serious moments, but directorial style doesn't much matter here. This is Schumer's showcase.

A footnote: It's refreshing to see James poke fun at the grim-faced intensity he shows on the basketball court. Those of us who follow the NBA seldom see LeBron James exercise his smile the way he does here.

Maybe in her next film, Schumer and James can go one-on-one. The result might make for good, competitive fun.

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