Judging Amy…Schumer…in Trainwreck (a review)

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I need to disclose that I adore Amy Schumer. I think she is an amazingly funny and talented comedian who has a knack for finding every nerve in every situation. Thus, I was petrified when I heard she was going to write and star in a movie.

Obviously, it’s not that I didn’t think she was talented. More that the talent to pull off a movie is very different from the talent to perform stand-up or biting sketch comedy.

Most comedians do not make the transition smoothly, and when they do, it is largely because they have completely reinvented themselves, often after several rocky outings. And many simply make the not-particularly-safer jump to sitcoms.

There is a lot to like about Schumer’s Trainwreck, so in that sense, I am happy that she didn’t completely self-immolate. On the other hand, the film had a lot of weaknesses that simply highlighted the challenge of writing a 122-minute sketch.

The movie had a lot of funny lines and several funny moments, based on the laughter that surrounded me and periodically fell out of my own face. And the humor was classic Schumer for those familiar with her comedy.

Anatomical jokes. Sexuality jokes. Feminine hygiene jokes. A bit of racism here and there. And crap loads of jokes about what a giant slut Amy is—note that she followed long-standing comedian tradition of naming her character after herself.

And Bill Hader was amazing in the role of the sports surgeon-boyfriend Aaron, particularly as he largely played the entire movie straight. This was not one of Hader’s million oddball characters. This was Hader being a regular human being who hangs out with multi-million-dollar sports figures.

Where the movie fell down for me was in the story. In short, it was a pretty stereotypical romcom.

In this case, they didn’t go with the “I hate you, I hate you, I can’t live without you” model of Nora Ephron. This was more the increasingly familiar “I don’t know about this, gee this is nice, what the hell, I hate you, never leave me” model.

Now, as a romcom, that is perfectly fine. If you came looking for a romcom, you will leave satisfied. It’s classic Judd Apatow, who directed Trainwreck.

But this was hailed as the anti-romcom (not necessarily by Schumer). The movie that turns romcoms on their head. Yes, the commitment-phobe in this story was the woman and not the man, but Schumer couldn’t seem to commit to that, ironically enough.

Adorable couple...cue trainwreck in 3...2...

Adorable couple…cue trainwreck in 3…2…

After establishing her character as the wham-bam-thank-you-sir kind of girl, she almost effortlessly falls into a relationship with Hader. There is token resistance, but it is overwhelmed simply by Hader saying he doesn’t agree and thinks they should be dating. This isn’t edgy; it’s sweet. Even her voiceover admits that.

Not to give anything else away, but conflict, crisis, lesson learned, gritted teeth, redemption and I love you, I love you too.

Again, if you want a romcom to match all romcoms, you got it. For those of us waiting for the Amy Schumer jab-twist combo, it was meh.

As to all of those other amazingly funny performances that everyone was raving about, I must have blinked through those scenes. It was a bigger shock seeing Tilda Swinton as a woman (and not David Bowie) than seeing her crack wise. Colin Quinn largely played Colin Quinn, who I like but did nothing spectacular here. Dave Attell wasn’t even funny.

Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton

And the various sports dudes like LeBron James and John Cena were your typical variety show variants of athletes…mostly cartoonish feminized versions of their personas.

Schumer had moments of real pathos here, so kudos to her acting chops. This wasn’t the joke-a-minute machine of her show. There is definite potential there for a film career, but like all the others who came before her, it will likely mean reinventing herself, and I’m not too sure that she’s finished inventing herself on stage or in sketch.

In fact, I sure as hell hope not, because that’s the Amy I adore.

Lady gonna do whatever she damned well pleases!

Lady gonna do whatever she damned well pleases!

Inside definitely Out (a review)

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Earlier today, I had the opportunity to see the latest Pixar movie Inside Out in the company of one of the film’s writers and its story supervisor Josh Cooley (a very nice man). And aside from receiving a lovely lecture about story development at the famed animation house, the connection afforded me an opportunity to appreciate the movie much more than I did on simple viewing.

To briefly bring everyone up to speed, Inside Out tells the story of the emotions that rattle around inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley as she struggles with a move across the country. Although we are introduced to 5 main emotions in Riley Headquarters (get it?)—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear—there is no mistaking that Joy is numero uno in this space.

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) sucks the oxygen out of any room she’s in and proves that even the best intentioned of assholes is still an asshole. Her goal in life is to make every moment of Riley’s life a happy one and is not worried about shoving aside the others (ever so happily) to ensure that.

But where Joy has developed a respectful détente with Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader), she firmly but gently has no use for Sadness (Phyllis Smith), practically ostracising the poor creature to the periphery.

With the upset of the move from Minnesota to San Francisco, though, Sadness seems to want to be more involved and in a fracas with Joy, the two get sucked out of headquarters and into the long-term storage hinterlands of Riley’s brain.

At this point, the story basically turns into the Odyssey as the two emotions struggle to return home before Riley falls completely apart at the hands of the others. (To say much more would be to offer spoilers.)

Joy and Sadness wander the hinterlands of long-term memories

Joy and Sadness wander the hinterlands of long-term memories

The challenge I had was in trying to figure out exactly at whom Pixar was targeting the movie.

Superficially, this is a pure kids movie (ages 6 to 10, maybe), unlike many previous Pixar concoctions, which had elements for both kids and adults. Inside Out doesn’t have the depth of Toy Story or The Incredibles to truly speak to adults, much as the most mature 11-year-old isn’t ready for the adult world.

I’m not saying there aren’t adult-focused jokes interspersed throughout the film, but rather exactly that. They are interspersed, like small granules of sugar designed to feed the parents accompanying the kids to the theatre.

Up talked about loss and aging

Up talked about loss and aging

There is no real adult storyline to this film to touch adults as there was in Up or Wall-E. Instead, the film has sweet, adorable moments of baby bums and first goals that might tug at a parent’s heartstrings but never engage the soul.

But as a friend suggested, it is not strictly a kids flick either because it touches on esoteric aspects of the psyche that kids that age would never be able to comprehend, such as abstract thought and the concept of forgotten memories. The problem is these aspects are more conversations of the mind and not the soul. So even here, the adult is largely passed over unless they have an interest in neurology and psychology.

Wall-E dealt with issues of love and environmental destruction

Wall-E dealt with issues of love and environmental destruction

And as a writer, perhaps the biggest sin with Inside Out is there is no sense of what’s at stake.

Sure, Joy is losing her cool as she fights to get back to headquarters. For her, Riley having a down moment is a disaster.

And Sadness isn’t exactly having a picnic as she is routinely sideswiped or ignored by Joy in their efforts to get home. If anything, she increasingly takes the blame for everything onto herself.

But what’s at stake? What if they don’t get back to headquarters?

Does someone die? Is life no longer worth living?

I don’t know because that was never a question on the table. And without stakes, I find it difficult to root for the hero.

And this challenge is made all the more difficult by the fact that the hero (Joy) is also the villain, albeit passively. She is truly her own worst enemy, and so I quickly find myself irritated by her with no great concerns about the outcome.

The six hour conversation and lesson with Cooley helped me see a lot more of what the writers, animators, editors, directors and producers were trying to accomplish. And that did help me understand the movie better. The thing is, few others were going to get this kind of help.

The movie will do well at the box office. Of that I have no doubt. It is a wonderful vivid distraction for young kids.

But it won’t have the staying power of Pixar’s earlier efforts and likely won’t be spoken of again in a few years other than in possibly hushed whispers.