There’s a scene in Trainwreck where the film’s star and screenwriter Amy Schumer makes an embarrassing show of herself at her younger sister’s baby shower. In the scene in question, a number of young mothers are trading gossip that betrays their mindset to be thoroughly that of the upper-middle to upper class, their country club, uniformity an open act of gender complacency prey to the conservative mindset that seems so often to come with children and middle-age. Schumer, an interloper at such an uptight, vaguely Republican garden party, is entirely out of place here, an incongruity between characters that inevitably erupts into one of the most telling moments in the entire film. In Schumer’s compulsion to over share when it comes to her own openness regarding sexual libido and licentious activity, the Amy character of the film’s script stands as an example for the perceived gross immoral impropriety that serves to highlight the disparity between the two classes represented in this dramatically pivotal scene.
It’s easy to read this moment in the film as a key move towards the film’s melodramatic second half, wherein the Amy character is forced to conform in her own small way in order to appropriately grieve and come to terms with the death of her father as a figure with lingering effects on her own highly dysfunctional life style. Indeed, writer Peter Knegt of the Indiewire /Bent blog felt that the film suffered from grossly betraying Schumer’s stand-up personality and personal ethos in the film’s capitulations to an entirely premature, albeit emotionally mollifying, storybook ending. According to Knegt, the film’s ethics largely centered around a brand of slut-shaming that just isn’t the Amy Schumer he thought he was going to see a film from, with the blame being shifted onto the shoulders of the film’s director and Schumer’s real-life creative partner on the production, Judd Apatow.
In Knegt’s piece, titled “Judd-ging Amy: The Slut-Shaming, Heteronormative Morality of Trainwreck,” Knegt laments on the ethical dubiousness of the film’s decided stance on the Amy character’s alternative life-style, expounding:
“Trainwreck is an astonishingly judgmental movie, and not in the fun way you’d think it would be. It seems to throw the very people Schumer has been vouching for all these years under the bus with an essential moral that excess behavior will only lead to unhappiness and that we best assimilate into societal norms even if it doesn’t feel natural. Why would Amy Schumer (our Amy Schumer) want to express such a notion?”
Coming from Knegt’s point of view, the second half of the picture is where the entire production goes off the rails, Schumer’s usual blend of irreverent mock-parody and shock gags tempered by the conservative, heterosexual gender norms of the film’s white, straight, and male creative half. Schumer’s balls-to-the-wall hilarity had been better established in earlier (and admittedly funnier) scenes censored by someone who might not feel quiet so at home with Schumer’s brand of liberal vulgarity. As an openly gay man (an identity which has long been the subject of invasive and bigoted social and legal judgement) Knegt’s outrage feels entirely justified, and his article is one of the most incisive and scathing reviews that Apatow and Schumer’s new film has received in terms of critical appraisal and viewer response.
But what film was Knegt watching, exactly? Apatow has no problem with courting blue humor, his film featuring scenes where the Amy character briefly dates a beef cake played by WWE wrestler and celebrity-personality John Cena that stand among the funniest and most vulgar moments of the entire film, and in regards to Apatow’s career as a filmmaker in general, as well. And as far as censoring Schumer is concerned, the comedian, showrunner, and screenwriter had this to say to the New York Times’ Melena Ryzik only a few weeks ago:
“I just don’t look like I’m going to be funny,” she said. Bouncing off that type, she found a rapport with audiences, especially when it came to talking, in uninhibited, juicy detail, about libido. “I thought, oh my God, I don’t think I ever saw a female comic talk about sex like this,” she said. “I was like, I’ll be that voice.”
Schumer certainly understands where her chief appeal in the mainstream lies, and it is alongside such feminist lotharios as Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling, who have both likewise seen success on TV and film as writers of their own material. What’s more, Trainwreck is Schumer’s first attempt at a feature film, and as such perhaps it might be more kind to forgive the film for its clichéd rom-com ending, and all of the ways in which the plot unambiguously begs for the Amy character to conform and be a proper Stepford Wife who doesn’t tell such uncouth stories at baby showers and other conservative soirees.
Knegt’s outrage over Apatow’s apparent meddling with Schumer’s script in Trainwreck is an argument that holds a lot of water. Easily the worst elements of the film’s script come in the second half of the film, wherein Amy’s gender is treated less as an individual performance when it is repackaged for the audience via the film’s climactic musical number, wherein Amy literally puts on a costume of prim, heteronormative social expectations of a young woman in a committed relationship, Bill Hader’s conservative uniformity adopted via the film’s latent genre tropes. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Schumer the stand-up performer still exudes counter-cultural lasciviousness more in keeping with her fans like Knegt, who just wants Amy to be Amy, whether she’s in a studio rom-com produced by the likes of a Judd Apatow or not.
The Amy character in Trainwreck is forced to make significant narrative compromises in how she presents herself to the audience throughout. Rather than being a film in celebration of the high jinks that find Amy in a stranger’s bed in Staten Island at the very beginning of the film, Apatow’s conformity as an ultimately conservative filmmaker (despite his penchant for dick and fart jokes) makes it very clear that such behavior may be communally felt and shared through common social practice, but that repeating such transgressive behavior is overwhelmingly unfulfilling. The Amy of Schumer’s film is forced to grow up by the end of Trainwreck, and she may have indeed been forced into a box of social conformity (as Knegt may believe), but it’s a box in which she finds herself with the only other person who has ever truly made her feel loved and appreciated for who she is behind closed doors: Independent, head-strong, and sexually promiscuous, making the film one of compromise between the public and the private spheres of social existence, which is exactly what Knegt fails to pick up on in his wholly justified sense of personal betrayal.
You can only appropriate someone else’s aura so far before you begin ascribing a set of ethics that might have less to do with the person you have projected them onto than they do with yourself, and Trainwreck stands as a splash of cold water to such a fantasy. Trainwreck employs its melodrama and gender stereotypes engaged as mere performance, not absolute fact, leaving room for any interpretations of Amy’s actions in the film to be couched within the fiction of the film itself, regardless of whatever personal baggage and pride you may feel privy to as a fan of the rising star on the silver screen. Amy Schumer is still Amy Schumer. Who are you?
Featured Image: Universal Pictures