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!

On shaky Groundlings (a review)

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Just got back from seeing a preview of The Groundlings latest improv show entitled Slippery When Groundlings and really have only one response: Watch for the names Jill Sachoff-Matson and Alex Staggs. I don’t know when these two artists will hit it big, but I guarantee you they will.

Unlike the standard Second City shows I am used to watching, this one didn’t seem to have much of a theme beyond irritating people…but then, all sketch and improv comedy seems to be reduced to irritating people. And given the reputation of The Groundlings, I was surprised at how many sketches seemed to be one joke spread over 3 or 4 minutes. I expect that from student shows, but I expect more from main stage casts.

The first third of the show was evenly bad with the exception of a piece called “Carl’s Jr.”, where Sachoff-Matson first caught my attention as a dweeby woman who has been run down and then backed over by life.

Jill Sachoff-Matson

Jill Sachoff-Matson

The second third picked up somewhat, starting with “Church Camping Trip”, but a solid premise was completely let down by a lack of where to go with it. It’s a good sketch, it just needs more brainstorming. This was followed by Sachoff-Matson’s “Kindergarten”, which actually caused me to laugh out loud. Sachoff-Matson is mesmerizing both physically and in how her mind works, particularly as she portrayed yet another train-wreck character.

But just when I thought I had seen the best part of the show, Alex Staggs shows up with “Giving Up”, a lounge act in which he gets the audience involved with hilarious results. I would be willing to see where Staggs goes with this every night because he exudes comedic range with this.

Alex Staggs

Alex Staggs

Following the short intermission, Ariane Price gave us her send up of sad-sack informercials with “Emulsion”, another audience participation bit that was incredibly tight because of the character Price portrayed. You felt so sorry for her Eastern European refugee glam-girl wannabe that your heart melted and you wanted to give her a hug.

Ariane Price

Ariane Price

The problem was, the crew then wasted all that good will with “Sub”, a throwaway bit about an aged substitute teacher who has trouble reading fine print on an attendance sheet. That’s it. That’s the bit.

But the show was rescued by the big musical dance finale “Brittany” where again Sachoff-Matson showed what she can do with a woman completely at odds with her world and her own body.

If I have one complaint about Sachoff-Matson’s overall performance, it is that her three best pieces all largely portrayed the same character. But where this would normally kill it for me, she managed to do so in such unique ways that it wasn’t the mortal sin it might have been.

I don’t know what other sketches they have in the hopper, but there is a definite need to replace several from tonight before this show will be solid from front to back. And while good, the other cast members are going to be challenged to shine as brightly as Sachoff-Matson and Staggs.

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Alas, Mel Smith

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Today, I would like to commemorate the legendary comic genius that was Mel Smith, who passed away this past week.

And he was a legend…in the sense that his story offers a scintilla of fact ham-fisted into a pasty-white pasty shell of human dung perpetuated by self-immolating vivisectionists with personal hygiene problems and a fetish for peat moss.

For those of you who didn’t know him, Mel Smith was a kind, gentle, giving man who would go out of his way to help the less fortunate.

For those of us who did, however, know him, Mel Smith was a fucking asshole. Wouldn’t give a toss about anyone even if they offered to wank the bugger themselves. As nasty a piece of shit as Britain has ever produced, and remember, these include the Thatcher years.

Mel Smith was born in West London on December 3, 1952, presumably from the uterus of a woman who had shagged a large black ram during some pagan ritual the previous March. No one is quite sure why he chose this day, but some have tried to link his birth to the great smog that swept over London the very next day, killing upward of 12,000 people.

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A right bloody bastard he was.

Over the next several years, Mel Smith attended a variety of schools where he was considered a bright pupil. Unfortunately, the ability to shoot light from your eyes is not one of the criteria to succeed in A-levels and Smith’s general lack of intellectual acuity—it is rumoured he had the IQ of retarded tapioca—meant he was only able to attend Oxford.*

It was while attending Oxford that Mel Smith learned he had a knack for convincing himself he was funny, and through sheer perseverance—and a gun—he caught the eye of director John Lloyd. Lloyd, who was fond of both of his eyes, immediately gave Smith a role on the hit comedy television series Not the Nine O’clock News.

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BBC audiences, however, quickly concluded that this was also Not the Funny Comedy Program.

Blaming everyone but himself for the demise of the careers of people like Rowan “Who” Atkinson, Smith beat up the little Welsh kid on the show—Griff Rhys Jones (talk about your Dumbledork)—and started a hard new series that took a satirical look at Islam called Allah’s Smith and Jones.

Two days into the fire bombings, a slight change was made to the title of the show, now Alas Smith & Jones. The ampersand saved the day.

Out of the gate, critics were harsh. “Who are these two wankers who do nothing but mumble to each other from 3 inches?” “Kiss, already.”

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But the British public ate it up.

Since the fall of the Empire, they had pretty much been doing the same ruddy thing every night, smugly satisfied in their fetid shanties that they didn’t have to get bloody malaria just to find a decent curry.

When the show finally went off the air—nobody knows exactly when, because to be honest, nobody could stomach more than 20 minutes of that shite—Jones wandered off, never to be heard from again, except as that sad ugly bloke who would masturbate monkeys on Whose Line Is It Anyways?

Smith, however, dragged his bloated carcass to Hollywood, where he was met with rave reviews like “What is that prick doing to my dog?”, “Can human beings really sweat that much?”, and “Did Charles Laughton just take a shit on my lawn?”

On January 7, 2001, Mel Smith’s career was declared dead. His body, however, continued to function until July 19, 2013, when Mel himself passed away from a heart attack. The news sent shock waves through the British comedy community, both of whom expressed surprise that Smith even had a heart.

Smith leaves behind pretty much everybody who didn’t die on or before July 19, 2013.

 

*Ed.’s note: It has since been verified that even retarded tapioca can gain attendance at Cambridge. We thank Hugh Laurie for the correction and apologize for printing the aforementioned rumour.

 

Thanks Mel

 

[Images are property of owners and are used here without permission because that’s what Mel would have wanted…and frankly, I don’t give a toss.]