Tag Archives: comedy

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

Obvious Child (2014)

The film opens with Donna Stern (played by Jenny Slate from Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation) doing a stand-up routine in a club in Brooklyn. And then, right after her spontaneous, funny, honest and confessional (although somewhat preoccupied with bodily functions) performance, she gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend in the club’s unisex bathroom. She’s heartbroken and as if that’s not enough – she finds out that the bookstore where she works during daytime (brilliantly named Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books) is about to close. But because she is the obvious child of the film, she handles her situation in the most mature way – she gets wasted, has a painfully bad performance at the club, gets even more wasted, meets a guy, has a rebound one-night stand – and then goes on living her life, without ever imagining seeing Max (a somewhat square but nice guy that she took advantage of) again. But things don’t go as planned – she soon finds out that she got pregnant during that drunken night. Does she tells him about the pregnancy? She doesn’t even know the guy. And she also doesn’t plan to keep the baby. She’s still far from being a grown-up (even though she’s pushing thirty) and not at all ready to be a mother. Not to mention that she doesn’t have a job. She can barely afford to get an abortion – how could she ever afford to support a child?

I admit, I expected another comedy similar to Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (that hardly even mentions a possibility of abortion – the only implication of it is in the following cowardly sentence: “I won’t say it, but it rhymes with shmashmortion.“) or Jason Reitman’s Juno (where the option of abortion is considered for exactly 5 minutes – Ellen Page quickly changes her mind after being verbally attacked by Christian Asian girl and decides that giving the child up for adoption is the right (moral) thing to do). But Obvious Child is nothing like that. Abortion is not considered as amoral, wrong or as a bad word that should be avoided. Instead, Robespierre takes a very clear pro-choice side by making a film (wrongfully accused of being an “abortion comedy”) that’s simply trying to say that if a woman doesn’t feel ready (emotionally, financially or both) to have a child, it is her right to choose not to give birth. It’s about time that we got a film like that – that doesn’t moralize, but deals with this serious topic realistically and with a great deal of brilliant and intelligent wit. It is also about time that this issue got presented from a woman’s point of view. Both Knocked Up and Juno dealt with unwanted pregnancy, but both times the view on pregnancy was presented from a man’s perspective  – as it usually is in Hollywood, where female directors and writers are still terribly rare and underrepresented (even Sex and the City, one of the most popular TV shows for female audiences was entirely written and directed by males!).

This film is funny, witty, intelligent and above all – it has this fresh approach to women’s issues that only a female writer/director could provide. Obvious Child is Gillian Robespierre’s film debut starring Jenny Slate who will make you fall in love with Donna even when her sense of humour is on a verge of disgusting (seriously, all that talk about peeing and farting?). The supporting cast is also great, but I especially have to point out Gaby Hoffmann who plays Donna’s feminist best friend Nellie:

Why do you care whether he needs to know or not? You are the one who has to get this procedure and pay for it, okay? You think if he was pregnant, he would be worrying about you right now? No. You guys, we already live in a patriarchal society where a bunch of weird old white men in robes get to legislate our cunts. You just need to be worrying about yourself.

I didn’t believe – until the very end – that Donna will go through with it. I saw so many Hollywood films with pregnant protagonists who considered having an abortion, but who always change their mind at the very last minute, that I found it hard to believe this film will manage to break the pattern. But it did. This is one of the first American films with a really clear pro-choice message; a film that is not afraid to speak about the problem that almost every woman eventually deals with, but is still mainly considered a taboo. And even though the story is mainly about abortion (that happens on a Valentine’s Day, I may add), this doesn’t mean that Obvious Child is in any way unromantic. On the contrary – it is in many aspects a very romantic, as well as entertaining story, that also manages to deliver a very strong message to the viewers: firstly, if I put it in Donna’s own words: “Don’t play Russian roulette with your vagina.“; and secondly, if you by any (drunken) chance do and you get pregnant, it is okay to decide for whatever option you want.

The Basics:
Directed by: Gillian Robespierre
Written by: Gillian Robespierre, Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Running Time: 84 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 7.5