Comedian Amy Schumer's first big screen starring role is big on humour, and on rom-com formula.

Meet one of the romantic comedy's most familiar scenarios, predicated not only upon opposites attracting, but also upon the supposedly socially unacceptable, immature traits of one being overcome by and through their love for the other. Boy and girl meet, sparks fly, problems eventuate and life lessons are learned, all inching towards the inevitable happily ever after outcome. So progresses Trainwreck, as much as the involvement of Amy Schumer as the film's star and writer may suggest otherwise. The comedian remains faithful to the exaggerated persona cultivated in her stand-up routines and sketch show Inside Amy Schumer; however her movie debut as a lead actress has been inescapably, irreparably passed through the usual Hollywood filter.

Finding wisdom in a childhood talk from her father (Colin Quinn, Grown Ups 2) about the unrealistic nature of monogamy, Amy (Schumer, last seen on the big screen in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) spends her time partying and playing the field — when she's not filing articles for a men's magazine, that is. After her boss (Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer) assigns her to write about sports doctor to the stars Aaron Conners (Bill Hader, Inside Out), their interview turns into a fling, then — astonishing herself, but delighting her married younger sister (Brie Larsen, The Gambler) — a relationship.

This tale shouldn't just sound familiar in general, but in relation to the feature's director, Judd Apatow. As The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up have shown, he has a fondness for loutish loafers or awkward outsiders falling for someone more sensible and finding the error of their previous ways; even when steering away from the egregious use of the rom-com recipe in Funny People and This Is 40, a more infantile character is always juxtaposed against an ostensibly ideal model of adulthood. With a sibling rivalry subplot also pushing the same agenda, that Trainwreck adheres to his type isn't surprising — but that Schumer does is disappointing. Alas, watering down the boundary pushing that has become her trademark was always going to be the only possible end result of the comedy sensation making a mainstream movie.

There is one always apparent, hardly insignificant twist to Trainwreck's formula, though: gender role reversal. As wrapped in clichés as the film as a whole may be, switching sexes — casting Schumer as the candid, commitment-phobic lady-child and Hader as the upstanding citizen in contrast — does allow the former to do what she does best, and to work in ample astute observations regarding the expectations of women, though the choice also proves a double-edged sword. The bite of her TV material and comic routines has been sanitised for mass consumption, but Schumer does provide ample amusement in smartly written dialogue, and in voicing gags on female-centric topics otherwise absent from the multiplexes, until judgement creeps in. Again Apatow's proclivities rear their head — for all the raunchy jokes the filmmaker has wrought over his cinema output, he remains conventional not only in the narratives he works with and in his directing style, but in the messages he pushes — with the feature's attempted subversion conflicted between making a statement in support of alternative representations of women and trying to force its protagonist to adhere to the usual stereotypes.

Thankfully, while constrained to template-like confines and ultimate saddled with Trainwreck's conservative values, Schumer still remains an exciting comic and performing force; indeed, the feature's best elements, its humour aside, stem from its cast. The chemistry between Hader and Schumer feels genuine even if their characters never really seem fated for each other — although calling out the ridiculousness of pairings in the genre appears part of the point. To say that a bronzed Swinton steals the show is to state the obvious, though her We Need To Talk About Kevin co-star Ezra Miller (Madame Bovary) also has his moment, and basketballer LeBron James is well used playing a fictionalised version of himself. Of course, they come together neatly, as does the film. It may trumpet messiness and chaos in its title, and flirt with a more progressive mindset through its star; however there's never any doubt that Trainwreck is a standard — albeit often laugh-out-loud — rom-com affair with all the expected trappings.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Director: Judd Apatow
USA, 2015, 125 mins

Release date: 6 August
Distributor: Universal
Rated: MA

Sarah Ward

Monday 3 August, 2015

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay