Full disclosure: I can’t “review” Trainwreck because I worked on it. In my capacity as story analyst at Universal, I did notes on each draft of the project, so I can’t be objective about the movie, though I’m delighted to hear that you think it’s good - $30.2 million for a female-driven romantic comedy’s opening weekend is not too shabby, all the usual Marvel juggernauts aside.
More than a hit, Trainwreck feels like a coronation, and not at all an undeserved one. Queen Amy is the comedy zeitgeist right now. Even her relentless promotion for the movie has been fun and funny, its inarguable peak this past week’s GQ magazine spread in which she appears in bed, literally smoking hot, after an apparent threesome with R2-D2 and C3-PO (Disney, in a wonderful We’re Part of the Gag But We Don’t Know It topper, has huffily announced that it never approved the shoot).
But when I first laid eyes on Trainwreck, in terms of the Four Stages of Being an Actor (1: Who’s Amy Schumer? 2: Get me Amy Schumer! 3: Get me a young Amy Schumer! 4: Who’s Amy Schumer?), Ms. Schumer was still in Stage 1. As an early Schumer adopter, I was then enjoying the first season of her Comedy Central show, so I was merely happy that her first studio-submitted draft came in very good – an unfortunately rare phenomenon in my neck of the industry woods.
Trainwreck is based on a simple but effective rom-com reversal: The girl plays what’s traditionally been The Guy Who Can’t Commit’s role. One impressive aspect of the movie, then and now, is that Schumer eschewed the quick-sketch fantasy gags of her series for something more personal and substantial, and managed to sustain interest all the way. With Judd Apatow attached to direct, this sly, raunchy-with-heart script didn’t really need much work, so my professional concern was meta: Could Schumer, while she excelled at stand-up and in sketch comedy, carry a movie? Could she hold the big screen?
Silly Mernit-man. Apparently the camera likes her (really likes her!) and for good, intriguing reason: Schumer joins Melissa McCarthy and other un-stereotypically appealing actresses like Kristin Wiig who’ve found favor with the contemporary audience precisely because, formidable comedic chops aside, she doesn’t look or act like a Beautiful Movie Star. She is, instead, the epitome of “relatable” – she’s someone most of us might know, or could be.
Except, of course, for her outsized talent. What with the video clips from Inside Amy Schumer gone viral and her other media appearances, Schumer is being talked about as the one most likely to unseat Louis C.K. as our current King of Comedy (Hey, can’t we all just like, get along?), and Trainwreck is now the official grounds for her planting the scepter.
Since you’ve probably already heard all you need to hear about the movie, I’ll do a quick recap of the memes: Wait, that was Tilda Swinton?!; good dick jokes are timeless; LeBron James is a scene-stealer, Bill Hader a viable romantic lead; Apatow currently proving to be more adept with other’s material than his own (though for all his great skill with comedic actors, I’ll interject, Apatow is still prone to moments of inexplicably dead air); what’s up with all the SNL cameos?; it’s a comedy that maketh groan men weep; and… “it’s subversive.”
This last one – “subversive” being the mandatory adjective featured in every piece I’ve ever seen on Schumer’s movie – leads me to a related romantic comedy, the British TV series Catastrophe, which aired in Britain this past January and is now available for streaming on Amazon. In its own low-key, unassuming fashion, it’s perhaps more genuinely subversive than Trainwreck (How “subversive,” after all, is a movie that, unswervingly true to mainstream rom-com tradition, ultimately posits monogamy and parenthood as the cure-all for an unconventional – and tacitly unhappy – single life?).
Catastrophe is the witty cross-cultural brainchild of Twitter-infamous comedian Rob Delany and Sharon Horgan, an Irish actress you may know from the British series Pulling. Aside from its first-rate characterization work and LOL dialogue, the thing that makes it unusually enjoyable, as well as outside the normal rom-com box, is that it’s about 40-somethings.
I know: Perish the thought, right? But these oldsters are not only sexy (on the raunch-meter, Catastrophe can go one-on-one with Trainwreck any time), they’re uncommonly sharp. The series derives a good deal of its charm from the fact that both Rob and Sharon (conveniently, these are their characters’ names) have been around the block more than a few times – but this doesn’t keep them from making the kind of spectacular mistakes real humans make, regardless.
Some of the catastrophes that befall this instant couple (she gets pregnant from their one night – no, make that six nights – stand, and he decides to be a real dad to the kid) are pure fate, which only adds to the comedy, and provides moments of genuine drama and pathos. That parenthetical log line, by the way, is no spoiler: The series’ premise is set in motion within the first ten minutes of the first six-episode season.
Catastrophe, to its worthy credit, eats clichés for a living. What’s bracing about each episode is how fast the usual formulaic beats pop up and get swatted down, with panache. These two barely know each other – a running gag that keeps on giving – as they’re thrust into the kind of high-stakes situations that usually preoccupy a full-length feature. What gives the show its subversive edge is the depiction of two likable, smart and savvy people who, unlike stereotypically jaded “older couples,” could really make a go of it – if their bizarre situation doesn’t turn them into mortal enemies first.
All by way of saying that with a fresh new rom-com hit at the multiplexes and a brash new rom-com series now available on smaller screens, the genre that’s been universally declared dead is evidently alive and kicking. That’s something that Living the Romantic Comedy would never, ever (insert sarcasm emoticon here) have predicted.