★ ★ ★ ★
Oh summer, that time of year when Hollywood puts aside Oscar-bait aspirations of verisimilitude and instead fulfills audiences’ yearnings for the kinds of fantasy only the movies can provide. Dinosaurs! Superheroes! Women in their twenties who can afford to live alone in spacious Midtown Manhattan apartments! In Trainwreck, comedian Amy Schumer plays Amy, the lucky woman in question, and yes, her apartment is lovely and her life seems terribly exciting. By day, she’s a staff writer at a men’s lifestyle magazine, where her tanned and terrifying boss (Tilda Swinton) presides over editorial meetings and listens to pitches for articles with titles like “You Call Those Tits!?.” By night, she puts the “fun” in “functional alcoholic” as she goes home with anyone who looks cute behind beer goggles, a routine that sometimes ends with a limping walk of shame onto the Staten Island Ferry the next morning.
Technically, Amy is seeing someone: a meathead (John Cena) whose dirty talk includes descriptions of weightlifting supplements. But when pressed, she’ll say that she just doesn’t have the time to date anyone right now, not when her irascible father (Colin Quinn) has been admitted to an adult-care facility and her happily suburban sister (Brie Larson) needs her to help clean out their dad’s stuff. Of course that’s not true, but it’s not like there’s someone special on the horizon… until she’s assigned to interview a sports doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader), who might be the first truly decent human being she’s met in a long time.
Audiences anticipating a feature-length extension of Schumer’s standup routines, which are largely the kiss-and-tell confessions of a shameless party girl, will be pleasantly surprised by this movie’s humanity. Schumer (who also wrote the screenplay) might get a lot of attention for her frankness about sex, but her desire to explore forbidden territory also extends to the funny and not-so-funny topics of death, sickness, tenderness, and human frailty, with scenes of her ill-advised hookups juxtaposed with quieter moments in which she aches watching her deteriorating father struggle to zip up his jacket, or squirms as she and Aaron have the kind of fight you can only have when you’re really, finally a couple. And director Judd Apatow is a perfect match for this material, since it continues his theme of people either chafing at the bit of maturity (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This Is 40) or running from the specter of death (Funny People) — which, let’s face it, are both essentially the same thing. Are the booze, pot, and one-night stands making Amy happy? Well, if you define “happiness” as the absence of feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable and afraid, then yeah. But the real problem, the movie argues, is that all of the really good stuff in life is behind that other door.
This charming film’s biggest problem is that it was made according to the prudish rules of the MPAA. Yes, there is a great deal of male nudity, since a man’s buttocks are an object of fun in comedies. And yes, some of the sex scenes — or rather, the comedic scenes taking place during sexual situations — are quite explicit. But the honest moments, when sex isn’t treated as a joke but as an intimate moment between two adults, suddenly start obeying the bizarrely modest rules of an R rating: The man lies in bed with a bare chest while the woman’s share of the blanket is pulled up to her chin; the woman keeps her undershirt on during sex while her partner is completely naked; the man is shown experiencing pleasure but the woman isn’t. If Trainwreck were a European comedy, it could have been as honest and adult about the intimacy of sex as it is about the absurdity of it, but American movies won’t permit that. All of a sudden, it’s not such a mystery where Trainwreck’s main character got her confused ideas from in the first place.