Not a Trainwreck: Enter the Era of Amy Schumer

By  · Published on July 17th, 2015

Universal Pictures

Editor’s Note: Trainwreck is in theaters this weekend. Read this, then go see it.

You have to look back more than a decade to understand what the Judd Apatow-directed Trainwreck is going to mean for Amy Schumer. There is no more apt case study than that of Will Ferrell, who in 2003 was a very successful TV funny person (his Saturday Night Live stint had already been running for over 8 years) that had only appeared cinematically as a secondary, but often memorable character in the likes of Austin Powers and Zoolander. Everyone knew that Will Ferrell was funny, but no one had any idea that he would grow to become one of the most entertaining and marketable comedic stars of the decade that followed. At least not until Old School and Anchorman came along.

It’s impossible to watch Trainwreck and not be compelled to both predict and root for similar success in the case of Amy Schumer. Anyone who has watched her Comedy Central show knows that her forceable wit is infectious, but this towering performance proves that not only can she carry a movie, she can also be a force of nature.

The story within Trainwreck is simple enough. Written by Schumer, it tells a very straightforward New York romantic comedy tale. Amy plays Amy, a writer for a mens magazine called S’Nuff who has spent her young adult life living by the simple mantra that monogamy is unrealistic, something instilled in her at an early age by her father (played by Colin Quinn). She drinks, she curses, she sleeps around and does all the things that any “respectable lady” shouldn’t do. But we’re drawn to her because as Schumer brings her to life, Amy is seen as a real person. She’s got a history that informs her behavior, she cares about her work and even in her most crass moments, she’s invariably charming.

It all hinges on Schumer, whose relentless confidence and caustic wit give Trainwreck its energy. She is unlike anything we’ve seen lately. There are cute moments, funny moments, ridiculous moments and even some surprisingly moving sad moments all amplified by her sharp writing and dynamic performance. She is dominant.

To try to place Amy Schumer among today’s leading funny women would be incredibly limiting. She shouldn’t simply be compared to the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, both of whom are wonderfully talented. Not only is corralling them into a gender-driven category completely unfair, they also seem to be in different places as artists. Where the likes of Fey and Poehler are writing and producing, Schumer could very well emerge as a legitimate movie star. She’s got all the talent necessary to be headlining movies that compete with the likes of Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart and Seth Rogen. She’s that kind of on-screen talent.

Is America ready to accept Amy Schumer into its heart? One can only hope, as she’s certainly ready.

There’s even more fun to Trainwreck than seeing the rise of perhaps the next great comedic star. As I mentioned, the story is very simple and in less capable hands might end up being completely unsatisfying. Alongside Schumer come some vibrant supporting performances. SNL’s Vanessa Bayer and Brie Larson are wonderful as Amy’s best friend and sister, respectively. Bayer gets a lot of silly moments (mostly at the expense of the culture of mens magazines) and Larson helps drive a lot of the dramatic moments as the two sisters work out their conflicting feelings about love, commitment and family.

To have Bill Hader as your straight man – perhaps the least overtly funny performance in the movie – seems like a luxury for Trainwreck. He’s charming as ever and has just the right sort of demeanor that allows Schumer and others to play off of him. One other that uses Hader’s straight man to brilliant effect: Lebron James. As a basketball fan who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, I can’t begin to explain how nice it was to see James’ existence in this movie elevate beyond a simple cameo. He’s quite funny, especially when paired with Hader. The same could also be said for John Cena, who plays one of Amy’s masculine companions early in the movie. It’s a bit of a spoiler to say more, so I’ll leave you with this: Cena gets one of the biggest surprise laughs of the movie. Even Tilda Swinton shows up long enough to disappear into a very funny role (to be honest, I didn’t realize it was here until looking it up on IMDB later). To say the very least, the supporting cast is excellent.

It all adds to the film’s great momentum. If Trainwreck is proof of anything it’s that you absolutely can tell the same old story in a fresh way. You just have to have an ace in the hole. That ace is Amy Schumer. As a writer, as a performer and as force of comedy that will leave you with chest pain. This is her superb opening act. You’d do well to get on the bandwagon now.

Trainwreck was screened as a work-in-progress at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival. It opens in theaters July 17, 2015. Check out more of our SXSW 2015 coverage here.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the upcoming One Perfect Shot TV show (HBO Max, 2021) and the co-host of The Storm: A LOST Rewatch podcast. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)