Comedies For All Ages, But Only Separately
By Johnny Pomatto
No matter where your tastes may lie, chances are there is something in Amy Schumer’s debut film TRAINWRECK that will appeal to you. Ever since “Bridesmaids,” when Hollywood suddenly discovered there was a market for female driven comedies, there has refreshingly been more of a push to let women headline more big budget films. Though Schumer is experiencing a kind of rare popularity that seems to be crossing over to multiple genders and age groups, Hollywood doesn’t like to take chances, and so director Judd Apatow has filled this “stone soup” of a movie with actors and plotlines that will lure in just about every demographic. Lest men out there fear their significant other will drag them to a chick-flick, the movie is full of sports humor, and even features several professional athletes in supporting roles, ensuring that you’ll leave the theater saying four words you never thought you’d say: “Comedic Genius Lebron James.” But of course the real star of TRAINWRECK is Amy Schumer, who introduces her raunchy comedic persona to the remaining few who have been living under a rock for the past few years. It’s a glorious unveiling and the kind of debut that is likely to birth a lengthy film career, though I was surprised that the edgy and occasionally controversial comic would conform so much to deliver a pretty traditional romantic comedy, albeit a very good one.
Schumer plays Amy, a girl who was raised by her womanizing father to go through life avoiding monogamy. While perfectly happy with one night stands and casual hookups, Amy starts to question her lifestyle when she finds herself attracted to the subject of an article she’s writing, a sweet and mild-mannered sports surgeon, played by Bill Hader. It’s easy to see why anyone would fall for Hader, though it’s a little difficult to see why Amy would. While we observe Amy’s character transform from an empowered and proud promiscuous drunk, we don’t quite see the motivation for her sudden urge to become a sweet and supportive girlfriend. Even she doesn’t understand the new emotions she’s feeling, but she also doesn’t do much to question or fight them. I don’t believe that the movie is proposing that the only thing this wild woman needs to be tamed is the love of a stable, well behaved man, but I’m not sure if the script ever gives a more credible motivation for her arc, or even an explanation for why she would want to abandon the bad habits she so seems to enjoy. I was shocked that the third act conflict that threatens to derail her new relationship seems to be more of a matter of Amy being a workaholic in a bad job, rather than her suppressed desires ever creeping back into her mind. This was a rare romantic comedy where I was actually somewhat rooting for the couple to not end up together at the end, just because I wondered if it might have been a happier ending for her. As wonderful as Schumer and Hader are opposite one another, the story never fully convinces us that they should be together for any other reason than the fact that they’re in a movie together, and that’s simply what’s supposed to happen. I didn’t want to root against the characters, but I do wish that the script shaped their path a bit more convincingly.
Though the script may sometimes struggle with selling its conventional story, Schumer has expertly filled it with enough laughs that it’s easy to forget its few faults. While Schumer anchors the film and provides herself with a perfect showcase for her brand of modern, feminist humor, she’s incredibly generous to her fellow comedians, and occasionally will stand back, (or even vanish entirely for multiple minutes from her own movie), to give some of the funniest moments to her male co-stars. Bill Hader gives his best performance to date, and proves himself as a quite amiable leading man and perfect straight man foil, while still getting plenty of laughs herself. His scenes with the shockingly hilarious LeBron James are some of the best moments in the film, and might just be enough to lure the “Sports Center” crowd away from “Ant Man” this opening weekend to make it an even bigger hit than expected. Brie Larson and Mike Birbiglia are so perfect as Amy’s straight-laced sister and her annoyingly pleasant husband that I almost wish Apatow would spin off these characters into their own film, like he’s done in the past with scene-stealers from previous projects. And two of Amy’s comedic mentors, Colin Quinn and Dave Attell, shine in supporting roles, with Quinn in particular delivering some sentimental pathos from an incredibly unlikely source.
While Judd Apatow films are notorious for their abundance of scene-stealing cameos, they also have a reputation for their over-length and self-indulgence. I’m happy to report that he’s scaled back his ambitions and made his most focused and purely comedic film since “Knocked Up” and “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” He seems to be at his strongest when he is crafting a showcase for new talent that is so funny and natural that even a few too many subplots can’t mute it. That’s not to say that this film isn’t a hair too long and couldn’t have benefited from condensing of some of the characters. Both Tilda Swinton and wrestler John Cena make unexpected comedic turns, but both side stories last a little too long and distract from the main story thread. Perhaps Schumer would have been wiser to turn their scenes into sketches on her show, rather than include so many supporting characters that they limit her own screen time. But although Schumer still has something to learn about writing a balanced screenplay, TRAINWRECK is an incredibly strong debut effort and a welcome sign of things to come. Since I can’t imagine she’ll want to constantly play slightly exaggerated versions of herself and comedic persona, it’s kind of a shame that this might not have been the best possible film for her debut, but it’s an exciting beginning to what could potentially be ahead of her. TRAINWRECK may be more of an actual romantic comedy than a response to the tropes and clichés of the genre, but it’s still one of the best and funniest examples I’ve seen of one in quite some time.
I was not a big fan of the first two “Despicable Me” films. Their needlessly heavy plotting always just left me bored, but I would perk up anytime those yellow, babbling Minions came on screen. The Minions are a perfect example of comedy at its silliest and simplest. I couldn’t care less about Steve Carell’s super villain Gru conquering the world while still finding time to raise three adorable orphans, but I could watch the Minions fight over a banana all day long. These modern counterparts to the 3 Stooges are just what you need if you want to see an animated film that will make you giggle, rather than make you cry and reminisce about the loss of your imaginary friend. MINIONS is in no way a better film than Pixar’s masterpiece “Inside Out,” but sometimes stupid can be just as welcoming as the cerebral.
MINIONS has one of the funniest opening half hours I’ve seen in any animated film in years, as Geoffrey Rush narrates the humble origins of these squishy, adorably malicious creatures throughout time. Playing out like a serious nature documentary about the silliest of animals, it’s a fine example of how dialogue can be overrated, and the indecipherable language of the Minions is all one needs to tell a story. I don’t mean to put them on as high a pedestal as Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner cartoons, but the Minions may be one of the best examples of near silent comedy that we have in this new millennium, and that’s nothing to scoff at. The Minions themselves are ingeniously designed and their strange baby talk mixes in the occasional bit of Spanish, Japanese, French, and Hebrew, so no matter what country in the world one might hail from, everyone has a justifiable right to claim a kind of ownership of the Minions for one’s own, which might be what’s behind its astonishing global box office success.
I would love it if Sony could continue the Minions story in a series of shorts, as 8 minute bursts seem to be the best venue for their brand of comedy. Even at about 85 minutes, their first solo feature is a bit too long, but I’m in no hurry to see them return to playing supporting characters for human stars. Eventually they encounter new super villains, (played by Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm), and they merely serve as stand-in replacements for Carell’s character from the first two films. I, for one, am happier watching the Minions causing mayhem and don’t need stories about Sandra Bullock’s desire to steal the Crown Jewels from Queen Elizabeth. But if there’s hope for a string of new era Looney Tunes shorts, The Minions are a fine candidate to lead us down that path.
Hear more of Johnny Pomatto’s reviews on his podcast MOVIES AND FILMS WITH JOHNNY AND FRIENDS available on iTunes