Comedy, Film, News & Commentary

Gross-out movies, Amy Schumer and the perverse moralising of 'Trainwreck'

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Those who have survived railroad accidents sometimes describe a distinctive and appalling event, where the carriage of a train going one way, will shear the side of one coming towards it, turning the thing into a giant tin can, and then a blade. There’s a sound like an enormous groaning weeping as the carriage opens to the world, before the back of it slams into itself, crushing those inside to stumps.
That’s yer Trainwreck. What Amy Schumer presents in the Judd Apatow movie of the same name (all cinemas everywhere, compulsory) is something else and less. Though the script is by the star, the movie is Apatow all the way through; perfunctory structure, character passivity, pointless coincidence, and a few good set pieces linked by a conservative sentimentalism. But you knew that because it’s a Judd Apatow movie.
Many movies become unwatchable pretty quickly (all those ’60s/’70s hippie caper films, The Great Frisco Freak-Out or The Touchables etc were gone within a decade); in Apatow’s work you can see it happening before the film is finished. Here, unlike real stinkers like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, there’s some laughs and a sort of energy from Schumer’s comic persona — the puffy but alluring funny girl who puts and grosses out — but it is hurled into a void.
Schumer plays a mid-level writer on ‘S’nuff’, a late-blooming US lads’ mag. After a sequence of her in action in a few comically squalid one-night stands, she sends the the dude home, or she has to do the walk of shame from Staten Island back to Manhattan in a gold lame miniskirt and spike heels — life changes when she’s assigned a profile piece on a knee surgeon (Bill Hader) whose work on sports stars, and friendship with them, has made him one hot nerd, and he is instantly attracted to Amy.
From there the movie collapses under its own laziness. Schumer is commitment-phobic, Hader pursues her because he hasn’t had much action in the last six years, because that happens when you’re a wealthy young doctor palling around with LeBron James (played by himself). Achingly old sketch comedy reversals are employed: the women want to root, the men want to talk about their feelings.
Schumer, the scriptwriter, throws in all the feels a late twenty-something has, about her relationship to her dad, a bastard whom she loves, and to her prettier, family-centred sister, a bitch whom she loves, and there’s his funeral, and her lame speech, and it’s probably what she said at the real one, and even though she’s sacked in the end, she takes the story, now as a fourth-tier freelancer, to Vanity Fair and we see the editor reading it approvingly in front of her because that happens all the time; you can just stroll in to the editor’s office.
‘No-one ever picked up a newspaper without a sense of expectation nor put it down with a sense of disappointment,’ G.K Chesterton wrote. If he’d seen Apatow’s work he would have adapted it to something like, ‘Ooooh, ‘fuckin Judd Apatow took me for fifteen bucks again! Knew I wanted to see a comedy! Gave me this piece of shit! Lazy, cynical arsehole!’
That’s par for the course by now, but what is new is the way in which Schumer’s ostensible shock comedy has been used as the alleged key element. It isn’t of course; most of Schumer’s more risque stand-up schtick — ‘I try to play hard to get, but you hold my hand you’ll wind up inside me’ thrown out on talkshows  — doesn’t make the cut. Presumably, this is to get a wide age-rating, but the effect is to amplify the perverse moralising embedded in Schumer’s act (as Helen Razer made clear in her review of Schumer’s stand-up last week on Daily Review).
Far from being morally abandoned or decadent — as, say Joan Rivers was, the impeccably turned out rail- thin comedienne combining material about female ejaculation with 9/11 soon-to-be-widows cheering as they watched the second plane hit the towers — Schumer’s act is a Guide to Life for B-girls, the stand-up forming, homily-style, a collection of lived examples: what would Schumer do?
Since all the real raunch has been taken out of the film, what constitutes the ‘trainwreck’ appears to be getting drunk and having sex on a first and only date, even though you said you wouldn’t this time. The film is so anachronistic as to be tenderly innocent at this point; Schumer and her friends wait for the happenstance of attraction — or the absence of repulsion — in actual encounters with people. Tinder is mentioned but nowhere used. The movie is near-historical, set in 1995. You presume the characters are all watching season one of Sex And The City.
Thus the avalanche of implicit moralising about self-acceptance while addressing addictive and self-destructive behaviours causes a sort of inner collapse of the film; far from being a hymn to abandon, it is a sermon of the type puritan fathers once gave, assuring their congregation that the sins leading to damnation were manifold ‘but too evil to be detailed here’.
Since the brief upsurge of genuine gross-out comedy, and its fascination with the abject and visceral — the semen/hair-gel scene in the Farrelly Brothers Something About Mary being a high-point — these comedies have become not a liberation from imposed order, but its agent, a way of asserting the absolute requirement of the contemporary US, and its environs, relentless self-maintenance, monitoring and reproduction as a reliable and patterned consumer.
The acme of this tendence is again, the Farrelly Brothers Hall Pass, a movie from which future historians will be able to extrapolate the whole of US culture c.2010, though they will need to approach it with one of those bomb-dismantling robots in order to do so. Two married men in a yeech, upmarket suburban Rhode Island are given a one-week ‘hall pass’ ie free pass, from marriage by their wives, tired of their horny, adolescent ogling of other women.
In the days ahead, attempting to pick up, they are thwarted — principally by their own deep desire not to have sex at all, to have no dismantling desire —  but also by the desire-annihilating abundance of US culture. They start their quest, with friends, at the bar of an Applebees, a lame restaurant chain where they quickly become entangled in the all-you-can-eat special of bloating fried carbs, and waddle off into the night (‘I’ve got to go home and take a dump’ says their fattest friend. ‘Why not go here?’ ‘this is one of those I have to take a bath afterwards’).
Shit and food and too much of everything appear to be winning, until one of them, coached by their louche, rich friend, spots the girl at the disco wearing no pants and looking to hook up, takes her home, where complaining of stomach pains she goes into the bathroom, holds her nose, sneezes hard — and sprays explosive diarrhoea over the tiled wall, says she feels much better, and expresses a desire to fuck.
Next scene is her being put in a taxi, bewildered at his sudden cooling of ardour. Now that’s a trainwreck. And funny. And a trainwreck. The other would- be Lothario is stymied — even as a hot Aussie blonde strips down for him — by the fact that each part of his body she wants to paw triggers a memory of his wife or children. The sentiment is counterpointed with the bathroom scene for a reason: compared to such fatuous suffocating plaisir, explosive diarhoea is honest release.
Hall Pass ended that cycle as asort of real trend. It limps on, in these movies barely worth the name, less honest than first weekend opening schlock like Transformers 4, because their stars and creators flatter themselves that they have written something. A real trainwreck may carve you in two, but at least it takes you on a journey.

5 responses to “Gross-out movies, Amy Schumer and the perverse moralising of 'Trainwreck'

  1. Nothin’ like a good old-fashioned hatchet piece to drum up some street cred, eh? One day Schumer’s charm may wear off, and some critic will be the first to point it out with so much schadenfreude, but that day hasn’t come yet.

    1. Justin, are you saying the film was good? I would be interested to hear your thoughts; this Gary Randall bloke has no credibility with me.

  2. The only trainwreck in sight is this review. What a waste of electrons. Now, Rose’s review on Tom Wait’s Rain Dogs album is spot on. Great listening.

  3. Oh dear, do please lighten up and get with it. Amy Schumer’s script is witty and her on screen character has warmth and appeal. She worries the racism bone quite thoroughly. She flings away the thin veil of empathy from the face of the psycho boss whom everyone has met. She criticises both sexes’ behaviour, quite mercilessly. True, the average male comes off slightly worse under the repeated pummelling. Maybe that’s what irritates people. Just too much of tipping of the balance away from the comfort zone. Amy should have been more polite. Um, where have we heard that recently? Oh dear. There there. Not to worry, just wait a few minutes and another smoothly sexist, racist and/or misogynistic film disguised as quality cinema will be right here. Did I say Ex Machina? No, never, that was ART!

  4. Wow. Well that just takes the cake…
    Somebody honestly tried to compare “Trainwreck” to “Ex Machina”
    While I wouldn’t bestow any awards on either, “Trainwreck” clearly panders to a rather ignorant (stupid?) demographic.
    Where “Ex machina” raises questions about human motives and misanthropy, “Trainwreck” bombards the viewer with endless prattle about “****ing” (a word used abundantly here), bodily fluids, gay jokes and the like.
    What ever happened to “suspension of disbelief”?
    This is to say that most of the cinematic expression we appreciate makes us believe on some level that it is founded in reality.
    It is also why “Ex Machina” is a superior movie to pretty much anything Schumer or Apatow have their hands in.
    I also criticize their understanding of humour. Dirty and absurd are not the same thing. Absurdity is the foundation of humour, not bodily functions…unless you’re that left-back seventh grader that only sits at the back of classrooms and buses.
    P.S. Describing someone as “puffy” (if it isn’t Sean Coombs) is kinda uncalled for Rundle.

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