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Gareth Higgins


Directed by Judd Apatow

Cert 15, 124 mins

Amy Schumer is a terrific comedian, confident that her voice and mind matter more than the fact that she doesn't fit contemporary Hollywood's vision of what a star is supposed to look like. She's representative of the newer field of popular performers who appeal because they feel far more real, more like 'us'. Like Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, Taylor Schilling in Orange is the New Black, and Aden Young in Rectify - for me, the best show on television - she looks like a person we actually meet in the supermarket rather than someone who only ventures out on Lake Como or when there's a limo around. Of course, average-looking people, beautiful like you and me, have always been in movies - the difference is that now they're getting to carry significant lead roles without merely being the comic relief. Her new film Trainwreck (directed by Judd Apatow) has her playing a character, also called Amy, repelled by commitment to anything other than superficially enjoying life, working for a magazine dedicated to printing dehumanizing gossip dressed up as cultural envelope-pushing. (Tilda Swinton deliciously plays the editor in such a convincing disguise that I thought someone from Holby City had gotten really lucky.) Amy is commissioned to write about a sports doctor (Bill Hader), ends up falling for him, doesn't know what to do with love, and spends the rest of the film trying to find out. Trainwreck is being mentioned in the same breath as the greatest comedies of the past forty years - Tootsie and Groundhog Day are its most obvious antecedents. It's certainly worth checking out, but I wouldn't say it's quite as good as either of those. It does have the same structure (talented but immature person pretends to be something she's not, and accidentally turns into a better version of herself), and the performances are what they used to call 'winning'. They win you over, that is; Schumer is a marvellous actor, who brings a dose of reality to everything she does here (as do Hader, Brie Larson as her sister, and Colin Quinn as her grumpy old man father). And in a lovely bonus we get to see the mighty Norman Lloyd - at 100 years old, Hollywood's oldest working actor, the history of American cinema in a one man band. There is a key difference, however, between Trainwreck and the likes of Tootsie. That brilliant comic drama had Dustin Hoffman as a 'difficult' actor who cross-dresses in order to get a part, and then finds he has to stay in character more than he wants to. Tootsie's script showed us that Hoffman's character actually was a talented actor - whereas the subplot of Amy's attempts to get published by a big New York magazine offers no reason to believe in her aptitude as a writer. Trainwreck also ignores the glaring privilege in the lives of its protagonists (inserting a homeless guy as a jester figure is a comic trope you have to earn; otherwise it smacks of elitist snark), and is a little too much in love with the New York publishing world. Wouldn't it have been ok to have Amy learn her life lessons, take some responsibility, and heal a little without needing to get a wee bit famous too? Despite its good intentions, Trainwreck is stuck in the notion that you get further in the world with integrity, wealth, and celebrity than with just integrity. It's not enough for Amy to figure out the painful impact her selfishness is having on the people in her life - she has to get an article published in Vanity Fair too. That's a pity, because the film built around that flimsy, purely functional tangent, not only wants to be different from what usually emerges from the blockbuster comedy conveyor belt, but actually achieves some grace and depth.