Slut Be a Lady Tonight: Trainwreck

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trainwreck-judd-apatow-amy-schumerI think what makes Trainwreck interesting is that it’s perhaps socio-politically confused, which is fine. But it feels confused about its gender politics in a way that seems like it would come out of the 2000s, or the ‘90s, even. It lacks a surefootedness about what it may or may not want to say about women, or what it may or may not want to say about this woman. I watched Sidney Pollack’s Tootsie last night, and I rewatched the entire series run of 30 Rock, and what both have in common is that they’re less inclined to make these kinds of concrete decisions about what femininity has to be in their respective cultural climates and instead acknowledge the mixed messages that are presented to the general populous. Both certainly play with the ambivalence of what their end games could be – domesticity or work – and, furthermore, with the idea of “having it all” (“Murphy Brown lied to us!”).  

Trainwreck doesn’t do that exactly. It is confident in how it wants to draw its protagonist’s trajectory. So, yes, I did feel a bit of a slut-shamey vibe to the film. Schumer, as a character, is propped up to be what the title calls her – loose, substance abuser, etc. And she is redeemed by herself by the end, which is naturally conservative both for Apatow, who has long made films about nuclear couplings and families, and for Hollywood in general, whose very nature is to be conservative. I don’t blame anyone who went in with expectations that Trainwreck would be anarchic, a middle finger to the hegemonic ideals that Schumer’s sketch show ostensibly subvert or critique. But it makes one wonder if this story could have been told without the slut shame, without giving the audience a position of superiority. “I’m broken,” she says to her sister. It’s very clear we are laughing at Schumer, or at the very least, pitying her. She might be in on the joke to some degree, as she is in her show, and it’s that extra textual baggage which makes Trainwreck a trifle.

No, I don’t think it’s wrong for anyone to want domesticity, even as a mildly radical queer person. The journey taken to get to there, though, feels weird, as if we have to watch a moral and social pratfall until she basically learns her lesson. Though it isn’t Hawthornian exactly (it does, however, tread a kind of reformed sinner narrative), it does rub me the wrong way. It’s my naiveté talking, but I do think you can tell a story about a woman who is sexual and then falls in love and, while maintaining her sexual autonomy, chooses a monogamous relationship. But perhaps that, then, throws off the point of the film? I suppose it wants to present itself as a gender reversed story of a lothario, and while men in Schumer’s position aren’t necessarily seen as morally ideal in those films, they still don’t get the same baggage.

In Tootsie, Sandy (Teri Garr) chews Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) out for being such a cad, exclaiming, “I don’t care about ‘I love you!’ I read The Second Sex, I read The Cinderella Complex, I’m responsible for my own orgasm. I don’t care! I just don’t like to be lied to!” The former part is what Schumer eschews in her show, and is initially presented to do in the film. Tootsie was released in 1982. That Trainwreck should backtrack on those ideas in 2015 is curious. Not bad, as I don’t want it to sound like I’m lambasting the film for not following my particular beliefs, but curious.

I described Trainwreck on Twitter as, “If Rizzo from Grease got her own movie and it ended up being a two hour version of ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’.” The film doesn’t go that dark, but, like Grease, it’s rather conflicted and contradictory about its gender politics, shifting and hobbling between wanting to laud sex positivity (which it never actually does) and being judgmental about it. But, like Grease, the politics alone don’t automatically disqualify it from being good: it is, in fact, rather enjoyable. Schumer’s got an ear for comedy, and Hader is quite enjoyable as a dork. And while Apatow has never really been a visual director, he’s certainly capable of getting very good performances from his cast. I liked its nods to Manhattan, LeBron James’ nonchalance, Tilda Swinton’s bizarrely insensitive boss, and John Cena’s latent queerness.

But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to find it hard to divorce Trainwreck from the way Amy Schumer has joyously climbed the progressive ladder in Inside Amy Schumer and be taken aback at the results. And I think it certainly is interesting in how the persona she’s created for herself, as unapologetic feminist comic, is almost antithetical to the film she’s written. I think these two ideas, that one can be sex positive and want a monogamous relationship, can coexist, but they struggle to do so here. And it may be completely indicative of the lefty circle I run in that this imperfect concoction fascinates me as much as it does, and maybe makes me realize that not everyone shares the same ideas I do. As to whether there’s anything wrong with conflicting ideological positions, that’s up to you.

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4 thoughts on “Slut Be a Lady Tonight: Trainwreck

    mixcellany said:
    July 23, 2015 at 6:54 am

    This was great, Kyle; you nailed it for me. Yes, I think I should be forgiven for lining up first weekend to see this movie because I thought the movie would be ground-breaking — because Schumer’s show specializes in (hilariously) taking on women’s issues (do I have to airquote ‘women’s issues’?) in a fresh, pointed way. And I think I should be forgiven for being a little disappointed that Trainwreck to basically be a classic rom-com — often hilarious, but formulaic.

      Kyle Turner responded:
      July 24, 2015 at 10:36 pm

      Thanks so much! I generally liked the film.

    chrismicklos said:
    August 7, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    Really enjoyed your review. My take: if you like raunchy comedy with a sentimental twist, you’ll love “Trainwreck”. http://madisonfilmguy.com/2015/08/07/trainwreck-review/

      Kyle Turner responded:
      August 14, 2015 at 1:38 am

      I don’t think it’s really a twist though. That’s the, er, issue. It’s a romantic comedy that star/is written by Amy Schumer that feels as it’s been lassoed into Apatow form. The “twist” is that it just barely eschews romcom tropes.

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