Trainwreck (2015): a feminist comedy that fails both at feminism and being funny

I do not have the answer to why I thought this Judd Apatow movie will be any better than his previous films. Probably because the queen of contemporary stand up comedy Amy Schumer (whom I actually like!) wrote a screenplay for this so-called “feminist romantic comedy”. To be honest, I am still not completely sure what went wrong: was it the fact that she is used to writing short stand-up routines and not two-hour long movies? Or did she originally wrote something much edgier and controversial, but had to polish it up because the studios said so? Because for Amy who is always so unapologetically herself, to write a movie that quietly judges a borderline alcoholic party girl that she is… I just cannot and do not buy it. This has Judd Apatow (in collaboration with a group of other conservative male producers) written all over it.

Amy, the main character in the film, is a pretty obvious alter-ego of the real Amy Schumer who sleeps around, drinks too much, does not date (at least not in a traditional sense) and who seems to genuinely like her wild lifestyle, without ever feeling guilty or embarrassed by it. She also does not feel the pressure of conforming to social standards that supposedly apply to all 30-something women. She does not want to even think about getting married and she finds the thought of having children revolting – and this alone is a HUGE step forward in mainstream cinema because – for once! – there is a woman who does not aspire to be a wife or a mother. Not that there is anything wrong in wanting to become just that, but being a wife/mother should be a choice and not something that every woman is just naturally supposed to want, as if we are biologically determined to. Amy is therefore a single woman who does not dream of a big wedding and is not spending every waking hour dreaming about babies because “her biological clock is ticking”. But such a premise clearly could not work in Hollywood – because the character that I just described only exists for the first quarter of the film. After that, the film chooses to completely derail from the idea that such an Amy-person could ever exist in a real world.

But let’s start at the beginning. This film received mostly good reviews and got praised for its “feminist” central character. And while I appreciate some of the characteristics that the early version of Amy has, there is also quite a few things that I have a problem with. I do not know when being a feminist became equal to being sexually promiscuous. Demanding of being treated as an equal when it comes to sex and freely expressing one’s sexuality does not necessarily mean behaving like a college boy at a frat party. Being an emancipated and empowered woman does not mean subjecting men to equally problematic and borderline sexist standards that are usually imposed on us women and instead of stooping to their primitive level (even when it is meant as a joke), we need films that will focus on how we need to step out of this viscous circle of men against women. And last but not least, not believing in a monogamous relationship also does not mean that your sex life has to be one night stand after another. All that this characteristics ultimately say about Amy is that she is not as much sexually liberated as she is emotionally damaged. She is not emancipated and free, she is just terribly afraid of commitment. And this is why she rather lives the life of one night stands and morning walks of shame, all while secretly wishing for a prince (doctor) charming to ride with her into the sunset.

This film seems to be trying to establish a female character that acts and thinks like a man; instead of trying to destroy the binary understanding of masculine-feminine, it perpetuates it by saying that, by acting more like a man, you are somehow more powerful and emancipated. But we don’t have to become the worst version of a man to be their equal! This notion of an emotionally detached and oh-so-tough masculinity is destructive for both females and males alike and should be destroyed instead of glorified. Because masculinity, as well as femininity, are nothing else as social constructs and instead of being divided by them, we should work at meeting somewhere at the middle.

But Amy is far from being the only character that possess those “manly” characteristics. Perhaps an even better example of how women who are portrayed as “strong” and “emancipated” in films often behave like the most aggressive and vulgar versions of men is Amy’s unsympathetic boss, portrayed by almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton. Her character is, apart for being poorly written, worryingly uninterested in the people she works with, talks down to her employees, has very questionable morals and does not appear to posses even an ounce of compassion or empathy. Just remember Sigourney Weaver’s character in Working Girl, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada or Sandra Bullock in The Proposal (to name a few) – they could easily be the same character as they all represent women who somehow made their way into the man’s aggressive and competitive world and therefore need to either adapt or get the fuck out since they do not belong there in the first place. Instead of women having to adapt to what is perceived as “masculine” behaviour and way of thinking, maybe men should slowly accept that women are indeed representing half of the workforce, are equally qualified for most of the jobs and do not need to prove their capabilities by participating in their testosterone-driven competitions anymore.

Let’s now move to the biggest problem I had with this supposedly feminist piece of cinema. Where this film really and completely lost me was when Amy meets a sports doctor Aaron (Bill Hader) who turns out to be everything that was missing from her life – all that was keeping her from being truly happy. Yes, all she needed was exactly the thing she despised the most: a monogamous relationship with a guy! Of course, her being Amy, there is a few more bumps along the way, but they all lead to a grand (the most clichéd, nauseating) finale where she puts on a dancing sequence with professional cheerleaders in order to make up for her past indiscretions. Come on, Schumer, really? A woman who slept around and now wants to settle down because she found the right guy should not be ashamed of who she was before and should not apologize for it. Men certainly don’t. Nor should they – but the same should apply to both sexes.

Not to mention that there is a whole sequence of her “turning a new leaf and becoming a better person”, essentially changing every single thing about herself just so she could end up with the guy. Should he not accept her for who she is? I know we all change when in a relationship, but this change should be mutual; here, on the other hand, the guy stays the same, while she transforms into a completely different human being. So she decides to throw out all the drugs and alcohol in her apartment, giving every last bit of it to the homeless guy that she occasionally talks to in front of her apartment, immediately degrading him into a bum and an addict whose living on the street is somehow definitely his and not society’s fault. As if her getting rid of the booze will somehow make her a better girlfriend.

So, where exactly is there a feminist message? And what were all those ridiculous scenes with James LeBron? Why do white people in movies only associate with rich and famous black people? The only other black character in this film was Amy’s father’s male nurse, and even he seemed to be included just so Amy’s (oh so white) work colleague could deliver a stupid joke about how “she had a black boyfriend once”. Black people in this film are either used as props for jokes that fall completely flat or as world famous athletes whose presence in a film is clearly just for better publicity.

This was not at all what I expected of her (or of any self-proclaimed feminist for that matter) and she certainly has some serious work (and educating) to do before I will be able to take her seriously again.

The Basics:
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Written by: Amy Schumer
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton
Running Time: 125 minutes
Year: 2015
Rating: 2

19 thoughts on “Trainwreck (2015): a feminist comedy that fails both at feminism and being funny”

  1. I’m a new subscriber because of your vast knowledge and clear love of film. Trainwreck may not be the next film I rush out to see; however, you write interestingly and beautifully.

    Your site kept me busy during a recent (and disastrous) trip to Paris. It was raining and I was lonely just stuck in my hotel room.

    Keep up the great work.

    1. Thank you so much! It really means a lot to hear something like that and I am honoured to have you subscribed to my blog.
      And I am sorry to hear about your trip to Paris! That really doesn’t sound like much fun, but I am happy to hear that my site helped a bit. 🙂

      As for Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, there’s really no need to rush.

  2. This is a good dissecting of the film. I agree with you most of the way. Especially that there are no black people except athletes. I didn’t even notice that. I’ve gotten so used to it with Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese and their colorless New York’s that it didn’t even occur to me. I disagree about the crazy female bosses in movies. Both about it being sexist and about their traits being gender specific. And I thought it was absurdly funny that she gives her local homeless man all her drugs. Because it’s an awful thing to do. However, from experience, if someone had handed me a box of drugs when I was on the street I would have kissed them on the lips and said, “For me? How did you know? It’s just what I always wanted.” I completely agree with you about her changing herself for him. I would have preferred that she drop the drugs and booze but still maintain her anti-monogamy stance. And he realize that if he wants to be with her, he has to evolve his way of thinking. But there is no way the Hollywood system would go for that. (There would be riots in the heartland. Burning copies of the film) But I totally and absolutely agree that everything good about the movie came from Amy’s stand-up and everything bad about it came from Judd Apatow’s lack of talent. Very good review. Love your blog.

    1. Thank you, Mel! Glad to hear you agree with most of it. 🙂

      As for the portrayal of crazy female bosses, I didn’t really find it sexist, just painfully stereotypical. Hollywood really loves to stick to it’s patterns. And I find it a bit problematic, because women still rarely (or less frequently than men, even if they’re equally qualified) get promoted to the top positions at their jobs, because they’re supposedly too maternal, emotional, empathetic and this obviously means that they’re not good leaders, bosses, whatever… but it would be wonderful to see this two characteristics combined in their film portrayals from time to time, instead of denying them the emotional part on behalf of them having a good career. Maybe such portrayal would (over time, of course) change the general perception of women and show people that we can manage to be in charge, while also being nice and empathetic towards other people. That we can be in charge, but also have a personal life, or even a family. But my expectations for Hollywood films are obviously too high. 🙂

      Anyhow, I just wanted to elaborate my stand about female bosses in case my thoughts weren’t clear enough in the review. But I completely respect you not agreeing with me; it is always a pleasure to hear your thoughts and engage in a discussion. Thank you again for the comment. 🙂

      1. The way I learned it, I always put leaders into just two categories. Beloved or Feared. Traditionally, or at least in the accounts of famous women who were leaders (myth or otherwise) they led by love. All of the people were in love with them and followed them. Emotional, feminine, maternal, leaders. But more recently our stories and our actual female leaders seem more inclined to lead by fear. But it’s the same with men. Some lead by fear, some by love. (And some both). You’re right though. Hollywood has glorified the “Dragon Lady” persona (at least in business leaders) because I think we’ve forgotten that there is another way to lead. When a woman is a leader of men, to think that those men must fear her in order to follow her is a failing of lazy writers. But as far as women not being promoted in business. I feel that the entire business landscape across the world has become a breeding ground for sociopaths, emotionless and bitter executives firing and slashing and cutting and profit-taking without any thought about the lives and people and environment lost. Business (and finance to an even greater extent) has no room anymore for human emotion or empathy. And it needs it. It sorely needs it.

        1. Yes, exactly! I completely agree with you here, it’s as if you’d read my mind. It’s nice to see we’re on the same page. 🙂

          As for the contemporary business world, I agree, empathy or rather, humanity, has no place in it anymore. Which is why I like to stress out when I get a chance that it would be nice to see a movie from time to time whose storyline would present a challenge to the established system; a movie that would show people that there’s nothing “natural” or unchangeable in the way we work and live (and that the characteristics we usually equate with women and their domestic sphere, can also be of value there). But yeah, I do realize my expectations are too high, because Hollywood is, after all, a business that works by the same mechanisms that I find problematic.

  3. Great post. Glad to see I wasn’t the only person who was very confused by the accolades this movie got. And what about the magazine she works for? Aren’t those magazines degrading women, with pictures of them wearing barely a thing all over the covers??

    And Swinton’s character disgusted me. She actually says the line “I wouldn’t fuck that guy with your dick”

    Is that considered comedy these days?!

    And like you I was surprised as I also enjoy her TV show. The humour is much more varied. Here it is sex joke, masturbation joke, sex joke etc etc

    1. Thank you, Jordan! I am so glad I wasn’t the only one who hated this movie – and Swinton’s character! Most people didn’t have a problem with her, but she annoyed me almost as much as Schumer’s Amy. It is beyond me how this could be considered a comedy. It’s full of offensive stereotypes and cheap jokes – but the fact that it was promoted as a film with feminist message was probably the worst and most repulsive (at least for me, as a woman and a feminist).

      And yes, you’re absolutely right – the fact that she works for such a magazine is also extremely problematic. But if I wanted to include everything that was wrong with this film, this review would be three pages long. Really, it’s a shame, I expected so much more from Schumer…

      1. I expected more too, cos I like her show. I’m with you all the way on this one, I might post my review of the movie which has been hiding in my drafts cos everyone else liked it haha!!

        If I’ll post it I’ll definitely link to your review as I really enjoyed it – as usual!

        Good luck with your studies 🙂

        1. Haha, yeah, I know, most people really liked it!
          Anyhow, I am really looking forward to reading your review. 😉 And thank you in advance if you’ll link it to my review – I am sure this will do wonders to my stats. I hope I’ll have a chance (or rather, a privilege) to return a favour someday (but I doubt my audience is big enough at the moment). 🙂

          Thank you! I actually finished my undergraduate degree two weeks ago. Finally! It’s been a really long and tiring summer, but it was totally worth it. 🙂

  4. I disliked the movie a little as well because it was two separate movies all rolled into one. It was cool with the whole Don Jon type plot in the beginning but afterwards it turned into a typical rom-com and that’s just .. we’ve seen all of it a thousand times already.

    Nice review !

  5. Excellent review, so many good points! I was hoping to enjoy the movie but found it very disappointing overall for some of the same reasons you outline here. My favorite argument of yours: “I don’t know when being a feminist became equal to being sexually promiscuous.”

    1. Thank you, Alina! I am really glad to hear that we agree on this film being disappointing – not many people saw it this way. And thank you for letting me know that I wasn’t the only one who was bothered with her promiscuity (or rather with the fact that a promiscuous woman became considered as somehow more liberated, freer).
      I think Schumer should read a book or two about feminism before she decides to write another “feminist comedy”. 🙂

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