Amy Schumer is an important comic pop culture icon thanks to her often intelligent, subversive satire on gender politics and her inherent existence as an empowered female public figure. With Trainwreck, a movie she wrote and stars in, Schumer makes a consequential dive in her career into not just film acting but also into screenwriting. There is a clear attempt to bring a feminist mentality draped in the familiar sleaze that director Judd Apatow has made a staple of modern comedies and it occasionally shines through, but not without some clawing and gasping for air required to brave the unfortunate misogyny and homophobia that ends up ultimately defining the movie more than anything else. Trainwreck is a well-acted movie with some hilarious bits, but as a whole it’s a massively disappointing movie that embraces the kind of straight male thought process it appears on the surface to reject.
Schumer’s main character, naturally named Amy, is not the playful kind of sexually promiscuous woman that modern feminism champions, but the “whore” boogieman that patriarchy loves to demonize. It’s admirable to have a female character that is portrayed as a more average, conflicted character rather than a lazy, feel-good role-model, but that foundation isn’t built upon in any compelling way. Instead, the cheating, aimless woman who jumps from man to man is just a foundation for an aggravating redemption arc, in which the apparent harlot becomes a civilized member of society who strives for a monogamous relationship and perhaps two-and-a-half kids.
What’s so problematic about this is that the movie never even attempts to demonstrate that Amy actually desires monogamy over the casual sex her character shows throughout the vast majority of the movie to love. Sure, it’s apparent that the repeated personal failures of cheating and the drunken, confused mornings in strange beds distresses her, but to say that those two things accurately sum up a sexual lifestyle focused on casual sex is ludicrous and insulting to people who decide monogamy isn’t for them and that sex is an activity sought out for no-strings fun. And that is exactly what the movie preaches, when it gives us a redemption arc about a woman who loves casual sex and doesn’t understand the appeal of monogamous relationships realizes she is broken, something the character says in her own words actually, whenever she accepts society’s obsession with monogamy despite growing reason to be skeptical of such an obsession.
The movie’s entire selection of female characters really is sad, too. There’s a lot of woman poked fun at for being too prudish, there’s a few other women that pose as straw-men for women who love casual sex actually being serial harassers and creeps, there’s a woman in charge of a sex-focused lifestyle magazine who is morally monstrous and cartoonishly blind to the sexism she promotes, and so on and so forth.
Trainwreck is a romantic comedy and the obligatory love interest is Bill Hader’s Aaron, a conflicting character. On one hand, Hader does a wonderful job of portraying a charming and lovely man and has great chemistry with Schumer. Scenes that eschew dialogue for simple moments of kissing and touching are beautifully done. However, Aaron’s character falls pretty squarely into the “nice guy” archetype; you know, the kind of guy Men’s Rights Activists love championing in the face of those blasted, cheating whores who usually go for those handsome assholes. As a whole, the relationship between the two never justifies itself logistically either, the movie never showing evidence to support either of them liking each other to such the strong extent that they do.
Aaron, who is a doctor for famous professional athletes, has a friend in LeBron James, whose character is easily the most consistently feminist part of the movie. He shows genuine, cute concern for his friend Aaron’s pursuit of a woman, not getting tripped up on inappropriate sexual objectification through uncomfortable guy-talk and convincing Amy to pursue Aaron seriously when he could easily slide in for a hook-up.
And listen, the movie really does manage to be funny pretty often. There are lots of great little bits, like when a bunch of men have really hilariously barbaric yet realistic conversations about sports stars. There’s an entire movie-within-the-movie toward the beginning, when Amy goes on a movie date, and it is hysterical but wholly unrelated to the rest of the movie. There’s good drama too, with a sweet father-daughter relationship between Amy and her dad that culminates into a particularly sad and brilliantly-written speech.
It’s just not enough to counter-balance the much more focal portions of the movie that are so problematic. There’s a consistent streak of homophobia in the movie, from subtle to incredibly, horribly uncomfortable. The movie pokes fun at John Cena’s masculinity in a role he plays early in the movie, but it quickly devolves into lazy and unfunny exaggeration that portrays him as almost certainly gay rather than simply less masculine that he’d like to think he is. What’s much worse is a scene almost at the end of the movie in which Amy attempts to sleep with a stereotypically gay but actually straight or bisexual boy played by Ezra Miller, a gay actor defined by his moving role as a gay teen who faces horrible adversity in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
The scene ruthlessly mocks him for enjoying to be submissive in the bedroom through acts that will come off as extremely mundane for any sexually-active gay or bisexual man in the audience. It ends with a sequence of events that embodies the “trainwreck” descriptor more than anything else in the movie, when the movie mocks him again with an out-of-character decision to hit Amy across the face without any kind of consent, prompting her to violently punch him in the face, sending him literally crying to his mother as Amy learns he is 16 and faces no legal repercussion and no extra challenges to face in the movie; in fact, her getting fired at the magazine she worked at seems to have empowered her to take on better career opportunities.
I don’t want to sound hyperbolic when I said that the scene gave me a physically discomforting feeling in my stomach and made me want to leave the theater. What makes this scene so much worse is keeping in mind a previous moment in the movie whenever Amy combats another character who says that she doesn’t know how to tell her kids about gay people by muttering, “you can just tell them they’re people,” or something similar. Trainwreck is an excellent example of homophobia hidden behind disingenuous Hollywood liberalism.
At the point of that disturbing scene, the movie truly lost me, but the rest of the movie was still poor. You see, there was a moment earlier in the movie whenever Amy shows a strongly-worded distaste for cheerleaders, saying that they will lose women the right to vote. It’s perhaps the only opinion on gender politics the character expresses the entire time, but she throws it away to perform as a cheerleader for Aaron in a big, aggrandized apology over a fight that seemed to require compromise from both of them in the first place. It’s an ending I’m glad was rushed, because I wanted the whole thing to end.
I laughed during Trainwreck, and am impressed by the performances, more than a few jokes, some of the drama and a character moment here and there. Unfortunately, what stuck with me much more was the movie’s backwards messaging that proves sexist, with some thoroughly troubling homophobia along the way. For a movie with so many filthy, raunchy jokes, it’s hard to think of a movie in recent memory more antagonistic towards sexually-free liberation.
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