If there's an indication of Amy Schumer's intelligence throughout Trainwreck, it's actually apparent in the first shot: Colin Quinn - when did Quinn ever get a shot like this! - as the dad, riffing for his daughters on how mom and dad are divorcing over dad's interest in, well, other dolls. The doll metaphor puts near perfect uncomfortable childishness on the whole enterprise ("how about a slightly overweight cocktail waitress doll?"), while underlining the womanizing and how bad of a parent he can be. But the joy of it is Quinn, tearing into the bit with a relish only a smart comic can. How many comics put the tour de force moments in the hands of others?
Schumer's trust in the talents of others - of wanting, not just being willing, to join an ensemble - enriches Trainwreck on every level. Anybody could put a female protagonist into a bad job at a men's lad book (still around? Yes), but putting Tilda Swinton in as your nightmare editor, with coworkers like Vanessa Bayer, lifts the whole thing to amazing levels of insight - about women in the workplace, the hell of magazine writing, and a world bent on reinforcing the worst sexist roles and tendencies. (And Swinton, all spray tan and blonde extensions and East End accent, vanishes yet again into the magical depths of her near boundless talent, as if her next role was stepping into The Only Way Is Essex.)
All of that, and the real genius of Trainwreck is that Schumer, as a writer, is willing to lay all this insight into what could be, but really isn't, a standard romantic comedy. The romantic comedy has had a rough time of it until recently - distorted and tortured into the "rom com" "chick flick" where all women want is Prince Charming, and all men want to do is watch something else. There was a time when these tales of two improbable people finding love and each other had actual depth - complex characters, emotionally resonant stories, some insights into the human condition. Trainwreck can't do it alone, but it does suggest that the worst may be somewhat behind us.
Director Judd Apatow has done a lot of work, much of it very good, in this regard; he's helped redefine the roles for both men and women in these types of films, not losing sight of romance, while allowing modern, more aggressive comedy to find its place. A lot of this, still, comes from the SNL world of sketch humor - Trainwreck is loaded with performers from recent seasons - but mostly we're just living through a transition where comedy, and the world it makes fun of, have changed. And Schumer's voice has become one of the essential elements.
It's a woman's voice, and a woman's voice that's not bound by convention or traditional notions of any sort. Amy, the main character, is wonderfully her own woman, in ways both positive and negative. She's brash, independent... but stuck in a lousy job, with family issues, personal problems and a bit of chemical dependency. Her bad relationship with a lunky boyfriend falls apart over her one nights stands. Her dad is ill, And by chance she starts working on a story about a sports doctor - she hates sports - who might be a good guy.
Here too is more great casting - Bill Hader's in that wonderful underrated position (Steve Carrell is about the only other one I can think of) where he's both slyly funny and genuinely likable, an everyman who always makes it work without calling a lot of attention to himself. It's a role that has to sell sincerity without feeling stale, and Hader makes it just quirky enough to keep it out of the realm of utterly unbelievable.
But this is Schumer's first chance to shine on the big screen and she tears into it with such gusto it's hard not to be amazed. Sure, she's been offering variations on this gal in her standup and on her remarkable TV show all along, but here she takes the various pieces, and fashions the whole person, a not entirely likable young woman who nonetheless earns audience sympathy; and manages to make points about all the bullshit thrown at young single women, while reminding us that things defined as feminine - softness, tenderness, vulnerability - are essential and valuable for us all.
Arguably, Trainwreck, loses its way in the final 15 minutes, when the need for tidy endings overwhelms what's come before - oh look, another Hollywood "drinking problem" solved by cleaning your apartment of half empty bottles - though the sentiment works and you won't figure these characters simply go gently into that good night. Rarely do films tap into both the ecstatic laughs of comic genius and the real pain of love and loss so thoroughly. And almost never has film shown the kind of respect for women as their own agents, in ways both good and bad. Trainwreck marks an assured debut, and unlocks some real possibilities for women's roles and stories on film. And that, surely, is some very good news.