Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Doing the Old Soft-Schumer
"Behind every silver lining...there's a dark cloud"  
George Carlin

I'm a big fan of Amy Schumer.  I just love her (kinda...when I'm in a good mood and now that Jon Stewart's quit). There is some real pain there that is channeled through the most deliciously wicked sense of humor that is simultaneously wise, self-deprecating, fierce and fearless. She's also a comedian who is a natural actor with a basic persona that is unique that starts with a strong joke-line, then is followed up an after-thought that one-up's and builds the joke, even as the energy behind it drops. Her edgy Comedy Central show "Inside Amy Schumer" has a nicely absurdist satirical edge when it comes to feminism, relationship issues and just about...everything. She's a potty mouth with a brain and says everything so sweetly, you might not even take offense.  

Unless you're a male. Or at least, onene of those male's who think women can't be funny. Which is so absurd, it might even be funny of its own accord. Except that the "guys" who say this are block-of-stone deadly serious...which is always a good starting point to judge comedy.
"It's FUNNY!"
Trainwreck IS funny, and funny in the way that Schumer's comedy is funny. She wrote the thing, after all, under the patronage of director Judd Apatow who wanted to do a project with her. 

That's good. In the way that all first projects are good. You gotta get your foot in the door, and for Schumer to get out of basic cable, a movie is a good bet—there are only so many talk-shows you can go on to spread "the word" and become more well-known and build "the brand."
Just be careful what you wish for.  Because, sometimes, getting that first deal struck means compromise...and compromise on some pretty basic level. Like the material. Sometimes, you have to do some re-writes to "take the edge off," appeal to a wider audience. Dumb it down.

Before I go any further, a quick capsulizing for Trainwreck: Young Amy and her sister Kim are given a "talking-to" by their father (Colin Quinn) about why he and Mom are getting a divorce: "Monogamy-isn't-realistic." His girl-children dutifully repeat the mantra as its a life-lesson that is obviously important. But the results are different. Younger sister Kim (Brie Larson) is settled down with a husband and a kid on the way. But Amy has gone a different path. A writer for a "trend" magazine (edited by Tilda Swinton, who plays outrageousness absolutely straight) she manages to maintain her career while not managing anything else.  Her after-hours activity usually involves drinking herself into a blurry stupor and sleeping with the first guy she picks which point, she promptly escorts them out, never to be heard from again, to their chagrin, as she is more than agreeable that they leave—forever.  

This is Amy's secret life. She has a boyfriend—a lunkhead named Steven (played by WWE star Jon Cena) but he has no idea this is going on out of his eye-shot.  And that is fine with Amy. Things start to get "complicated" when her magazine assigns her to write a sports surgeon named Aaron (Bill Hader, in a relatively straight romantic lead that he still manages to pull off despite his ventriloquist dummy looks). Their initial meeting is awkward, prickly. She hates sports. It's his livelihood and he deals with some of the largest lights in the sports dimension—LeBron James has an extended cameo and he's a natural at this acting thing (is there anything he's not good at?), finding a sweet-spot between underplaying and looking amateurish (like most players do). The fact that the star doesn't give a rip about sports makes you wonder why there are so many sports cameo's, and again, we will delay any speculation why.
His work makes her vomit, but he's the nicest guy—at least the least creepy—she's met in a long time. He's also annoyingly normal. And—worst of all—after they sleep together, he has the temerity to actually call her and ask her out again.
"Ya know what? I'm gonna call the police..." That's a funny line. And it's also at the heart of Schumer comedy; the norm is so out of whack in the dating game Amy is in that to be confronted with it, it seems bizarre, even threatening. Something so right must have something wrong with it. And so the closer he and she get, the more she pulls back. Cynicism and sarcasm are the comfort zone. Anything positive, in such a world-view, must have a consequence. So why risk happiness?  
That's such a contrarian concept, it can only be either comedy or tragedy—the two are only a reaction shot different from each other. It's a high-wire act that has to be tread very gingerly or it will go in a direction that is not intended and Schumer's comedy strides that line. It's thrilling to watch because you might be blind-sided at any minute by a sudden torque in mood.

Unless, of course, you're watching a Judd Apatow film. Every film of his has the same distinct arc—the square peg getting its corners shaved to fit into the societally-approved round hole. Look at his movies: Apatow has the reputation of being a ground-breaking film-maker, pushing the limits of what can be done on-screen (as far as subject matter is concerned; pictorially, he keeps things in frame and in focus and manages to keep beats as far as emotional focus and that's about it), but there is no director more provincial (even Garry Marshall) in bringing things to a close that would satisfy Focus on the Family. He's a conservative in radicals' clothing and the ending of Trainwreck is another example of how he can bring a challenging idea and completely cut the legs out from it and turn into a bawdy sermon. This ending, in which Schumer's character "turns her life around" (as far as the movie goes) rankled me as much as the ending of Grease in which Olivia Newton-John's character must present herself as a dirt-bag in order to win the heart of John Travolta's namby-pamby bad-boy who's too weak to risk anything in the relationship. As Mad Magazine opined in its parody: "what a wonderful message for the youth of America."

This is the same message although in reverse. No matter how well-meaning the transformation, it still puts its female protagonist in the position of "she who must yield" if the couple is having any future. It flies in the face of what has gone before and feels completely foreign to the Schumer mind-set. But, then we're talking compromise here, compromise to a patron who managed to get the thing made, even if it means finding an easy-cheesy solution to a complex problem and undermining the work in the process. Until then, Trainwreck coasts along smoothly but derails as it pulls into the station, leaving one with the same feeling as the optimistic surgeon: "Well, the operation was a success but the patient died."

'Tis a pity...

No comments:

Post a Comment