Commentary

Chasing Amy: Is 'Trainwreck' Bad for Women?

I’m a big fan of “Inside Amy Schumer,” the Comedy Central show that was just nominated for seven Emmys. It has gotten markedly better throughout its three-season run, and was just picked up for a fourth.

Starring Schumer -- a whip-smart stand-up comic who can act and also possesses great physical timing -- the show brings a fresh, unapologetic voice to all of that paradoxical stuff involved with being a thinking woman in our Kardasho-loaded culture. It riffs on all those hard-to-define moments and experiences in which the idea of a female sexual warrior is heartily endorsed if it is accompanied by the right amount of  self-loathing and cosmetic work. It also skewers Hollywood’s still-brain-busting double standards, where the only older woman getting honored (and thought of as “hot”) these days in L.A. is Caitlyn Jenner.

For example, one of the most downloaded, and take-no-prisoners sketches this season shows a private alfresco party taking place somewhere in the arid Hollywood countryside. We discover a long picnic table, at which TV and movie stars Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are shown drinking and feasting. It turns out that they’re celebrating the freedom of Louis-Dreyfus’ “last fuckable day."

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Another skit brilliantly parodies the sanctimonious earnestness of “Friday Night Lights.” A new high school football coach moves into town with his wine-mainlining wife (played by Amy) and horrifies the local populace with his shocking "no raping" rule for the team.  

So all this intro is by way of saying that I appreciate the ground-breaking content that the Schumer show has delivered into the cultural ether. It has already made a difference. I also know that the natural way to move up in the entertainment hierarchy is for Schumer to write and star in her own  movie.

And “Trainwreck,” in which Schumer does just that, earned $40 million in business in its opening weekend. That is considered “gangbusters,” to use 1920s Variety-style terminology.

Good for her. Except that the movie reinforces every lame stereotype that the "IAS" writers have worked so hard to satirize.

Directed by Judd Apatow, the movie is a standard full-bro Apatow production, except that it comes with a big gender twist! Here, it’s Amy who plays the Seth Rogen role. A narcissistic jerk, she’s also an immature, pot-smoking, often drunk, sexually voracious commitmentphobe who works as a writer at a gross men’s magazine called SNuff. (Is that name woman-hating enough?) And by the end of the film, she’s the one who gets to learn the beauty of cleaned-up monogamy.

Here’s the problem with these sorts of facile role reversals: Nobody wins. It’s been happening for about 30 years in advertising, where, using a basic ad formula to sell packaged goods, someone has to be the idiot who learns a product lesson.

During the 1950s and 60s, that idiot was the housewife (to David Ogilvy’s chagrin). So she received the help of the Tidy Bowl man floating in her toilet tank, or the Ajax knight riding a horse into her kitchen. And through these teachers, our polite, shirtwaisted would-be homemakers learned how to whiten, brighten, and make everything better-smelling. Just wait till hubby gets home!

As advertisers became aware that women did not want to be depicted this way, the agencies reversed the formula, so that the goofy, bumbler husband/dad was the one with his head in the oven. It was (and still is) somehow more politically correct to make dad the dummy and mom know best.

But obviously, it’s an overly broad formula that insults nuanced human beings.

To begin with, the script of “Trainwreck” is a mash-up of publishing trends from the 1990s (she works at a laddie magazine, after all) and elements of “The Devil Wears Prada” mixed with “How to Lose a Man in 10 Days.” Add a considerable dose of “Sex and the City” poisoning.

There are some funny bits. I loved the scene where she explains that she can’t sleep with the guy she just had sex with because she can feel his breathing “wind” on her neck.)

But overall, it comes off as disjointed and patchy because there are too many implausible plot lines. For example, how many eminent  male sports doctors/surgeons do you know who are painfully shy and almost-virginal?  (Bill Hader as Dr. Aaron Conners.)  LeBron James plays  Hader’s wingman, who wants to hear every detail of the relationship and to discuss “Downton Abbey” with him. (There’s a weird straight-men-who-don’t-seem-to know-they’re-gay vibe throughout.)   Since Hader plays the sports doc for The Knicks, the plot hinges on an important knee replacement for Amar’e Stoudemire. (We all know how well that worked out in real life.)

Unfortunately, Amy not only plays the uncouth guy, but also the dumb blonde — and it’s a really unattractive combo  She goes to interview the sports doc, and shows she knows less than zero about sports, calling one team “the Orlando Bloom.”  OK that’s sort of funny, but does this take place in the land of No Google? Then she calls the charitable organization that he works for “Doctors with Borders.”

Amy also breaks a cardinal rule of journalism right away by sleeping with her subject after their first encounter. That happens only because she pushes her way into his apartment and on top of him. The reverse would be ugly, indeed.

There is a psychologically smart, compelling story about her relationship with her alcoholic, mean, cheating, sick father, and her problems with her married sister, just under the surface, that could have provided all sorts of freshness and nuance. But it never gets developed.

Instead, we get the conversion after she loses her job for almost sleeping with a 16-year-old intern, loses Hader, and hits bottom. So she stops smoking pot, throws out the alcohol, cleans up her apartment (a large loft on the Lower East Side that would rent for at least $5,000) and starts writing for a “good-girl” magazine, Vanity Fair.

The final moment, in which she actually gyrates through a routine with the Knicks City Dancers, dressed in their sexy uniform, to show Hader that she has changed, is unconscionable in its near-Stepfordness. Maybe Apatow thought it was needed to hold the attention of all the males who came to see LeBron and crew.

But it proves that “Trainwreck” is mistitled: it should be “Sell-Out.” Sorry, but I’m not getting aboard.

The tragic shooting in a Louisiana movie theater showing “Trainwreck” occurred after this edition of MadBlog went to press. Our thoughts are with the families and community involved.

16 comments about "Chasing Amy: Is 'Trainwreck' Bad for Women?".
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  1. Arthur Greenwald from Greenwald Media, July 24, 2015 at 12:08 a.m.

    Sharply observed as always but I'm not sure I agree. This is Schumer's first movie star role and she's a big box office hit. Now she'll have the freedom to demonstrate her own style and POV in future films. That's a major win for all concerned. 

  2. Neilan Tyree from The Propeller Group, July 24, 2015 at 8:03 a.m.

    Two words come to mind after reading this -- yet another terrific essay from you.  But those two words are Agony and Ecstasy.  1) Agony because you just wrecked my Saturday evening plans: dinner and "Trainwreck" was the idea. Now, I suppose we'll linger over dessert. And 2) Ecstasy because you just saved me the price of three tickets.

    But seriously, I'm really disappointed. I'm late to the Amy Schumer party, but it was that mindblowing short with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette that made Schumer vault to the top of my new favorites list. And I was very much looking forward to this, even though I usually eschew dopey Seth Rogen/Apatow/Melissa McCarthy junk because...the ones I have seen just make me cringe.

    I would still go see "Trainwrecking" to come to my own conclusion, but... Nah. I'll take your word for it.  Thanks for saving me the trouble.

  3. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, July 24, 2015 at 8:09 a.m.

    Neilan-- go see it. I had a few genuine laughs. Woody Allen moment, etc. But I guess she had to make the "arc" of a typical movie-- someone gets saved. They shoehorned all the sports people in to get the guy audience, I guess, but it was odd. Espciallly the scene with an intervention for the doctor starring Marv Albert and Chris Evert. But would love to hear your perspective! 

  4. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, July 24, 2015 at 8:55 a.m.

    I'm biased as a huge Schumer fan, but this seems too mean by half. Her character in "Trainwreck" has a terrible job with bad co-workers, which along with the family situation, makes the regrettable choices believable. The ending was a little deus ex machina, but it's a comedy; that's to be expected. If nothing else, see it to continue to encourage people to keep giving Schumer and Co. shots, as she's got an unerring taste in comedian friends (Dave Attell, Nikki Glaser, Bridget Everett, Rachel Feinstein, Mike Bribiglia, etc., etc.).

  5. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, July 24, 2015 at 10 a.m.

    That's a good point about all the fellow comics she hired to be in the movie. That was nice. I think i was really offended as a journalist. (I know, it's a movie fantasty.) Especially in the part where she rewrites the piece about Aaron and submits it to Vanity Fair. From the voiceover in which she reads the beginning, it sounds terrible and trite. It not only gets picked up (would never happen) but the editor in chief greets her and personally edits the piece with her in his office. (NEVER.) Then it magically appears in the mail three days later! With her conversion to good girl-cheerleaderdom, does that mean that she can no longer be sarcastic and caustic? 

  6. Jeff Sawyer from GH, July 24, 2015 at 10:42 a.m.

    Sharp writing and a gutsy critique given the positive publicity train Amy's riding of late. Agree about her TV show ... especially liked the "12 Angry Men" episode. Look forward to seeing "Trainwreck" sometime. (Should she not have handed it to the current head of the Boys' Club to direct?)

    Imagine Amy Schumer and Louis C.K. having a child together...  

  7. Don Perman from self, July 24, 2015 at 10:57 a.m.

    I agree with much of the review, both positive and negative. The ridiculous nature of the magazine pitch scenes is excessive, but not wildly so. But the Vanity Fair part is completely fake. Basically, it's another view of the magazine world that fails to note that these careers vanished years ago. The savagery of the current hit play "Gloria" is much more on point.  I also liked Amy's character and behavior more, if only as a guy's insight to such a unique female's world.  Her raunchiness also amused me. Many other professional realms here: surgery, sports, etc. were wish-fulfillment kinds of things, but not offensive.  Overall, I am hugely impressed with her invention, drive, and fearlessness. No question, I'm more of a fan.

  8. David Phillips from NaturalPath Media, July 24, 2015 at 11:03 a.m.

    really, loose the chip and lighten up, Babs - it's a Judd Apatow romcom. shocking!

  9. chuck husak from august, lang & husak, July 24, 2015 at 11:13 a.m.

    Tidy Bowl Man?  White Knight?  Substitutes, they are!  

    I always identified with the Baddest Dude in the Pantry -- Mr. Clean!  He seemed to understand that any hanky-panky in the kitchen began with a clean floor.  Profound!  


  10. Patrick Scullin from Ames Scullin O'Haire, inc., July 24, 2015 at 11:17 a.m.

    I did not think the film was a great comedy, but I thought it was a terrific romance. Sure, one must take it with boulder-size grains of salt, hey, it's a Hollywood story, but, the characters were complex, interesting, not always likable... and we got our USDA daily requirement of lessons learned and characters changed for the better.

    Barbara, I enjoyed the ride, and in the modern rom-com genre, it succeeded better than most.

    Is it bad for women? I don't think so, no more than a movie about a guy as a jerk is bad for men. No matter the gender, people will be people-- and more than a few can be asses.

  11. Lisa DePaulo from self employed, July 24, 2015 at 1:27 p.m.

    Barbara makes everything seem more interesting than it probably is! 

  12. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 24, 2015 at 3:34 p.m.

    It sounds perfectly tedious. Comedy is hard. There is some very interesting sci fi on TV this year, HUMAN, Defiance, and of course, Orphan Black which are more realistic with some very humorous lines.

  13. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY, July 24, 2015 at 3:34 p.m.

    "Nuanced human beings" are getting scarce.

  14. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, July 24, 2015 at 5:41 p.m.

    I have zero interest, really tired of Apatow's schtick, and this sounds pretty horrible. Bizarre that it ends with her donning a cheerleader uniform -- it's like Taming of the Shrew. 

  15. Ruth Thomas from Second helping, July 25, 2015 at 7:32 a.m.

    Sometimes a banana is just a banana.....I think sometimes a silly movie made to make you laugh should be just that....Amy goes deep in her comedy and points out the ridiculous but I think too much was expected of her here...sometimes, I just want to laugh...I don't want to over think and shake my fist with everything that happens...

  16. Jim English from The Met Museum, July 26, 2015 at 2:16 p.m.

    I still haven't forgiven Amy for the big butt anthem routine she did on her show. Re the film, keen insight from you, Barbara, who knows how magazines work.  Like Neilan,  I might skip.

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