Most mainstream comedies are voyages of virility. There is the bromance, the man-child deathly scared of maturation, and the callow, testosterone-infused youth brimming with horniness. But precious few Hollywood fare concerns the vaginal voyage. And that is one of several reasons why Trainwreck is so damn special.
Directed by Judd Apatow and written by and starring Amy Schumer, the no-holds-barred stand-up comedienne who once told Mike Tyson (to his face): “You have a slutty lower-back tattoo on your face… Men don’t know whether to be scared of it, or finish on it,” Trainwreck upends cinema gender tropes in telling the tale of a woman (Schumer) who has sworn against monogamy. Her nights consist of boozing and boning a revolving door of sexy, vapid men. Now, the unevolved male reaction to this would be to brand her a “slut”; an empty vessel that, well, needs filling. But anyone who isn’t heavily invested in #Gamergate will realize that this is a standard, typically male-driven mainstream comedy narrative. It is Knocked Up, featuring a woman as the one who needs fixing, and the men as the objects. And that, in 2015, is what makes this film subversive.
“I actually wrote my college thesis on that—the male gaze, and how it’s always a slow pan up from the leg [of a woman],” Schumer says. “They don’t do that with guys. I’ve been to male strip clubs during bachelorette parties and it’s so unsettling because we’re so not used to seeing men sexualized like that.”
Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” aside, Trainwreck will serve as an important litmus test for audiences prone to the aforementioned “male gaze.” It is every bit as funny and accomplished as Apatow’s previous flick Knocked Up, only through a female lens. Schumer stars as Amy, a writer for an obnoxious lifestyle magazine governed by Dianna (Tilda Swinton). One day, she’s tasked with profiling Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), an up-and-coming sports surgeon, and BFF to LeBron James. They get wasted and have sex, but he’s not like the other disposable douches—he is special. Somehow, he’s burrowed into her brain, and even goes as far as to call her the next day. He has all the trappings of “the one”—picture a literal ball and chain— and it challenges her lifelong dedication to ferocious independence at all costs.
It could be argued, at least in the halls of Hollywood power, that Trainwreck may not have been able to happen if not for Bridesmaids, the Apatow-shepherded, Kristen Wiig-anchored comedy about a group of hell-raising bachelorettes. The 2011 film, just four years removed from Warner Bros. then-president of production Jeff Robinov’s appalling decree of, “We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead,” grossed $288.4 million worldwide. It was a big “f-ck you” to Robinov and every other sad chauvinist who felt women couldn’t run the on-screen show.
“On Bridesmaids, I never thought for a second, ‘Now we’re going to do a movie with women,’ I just thought, ‘Kristen Wiig is insanely funny,’” says Apatow. “And when it came out, we thought, ‘Oh, they don’t make movies like this that often!’”
The film also had a profound effect on Schumer, then a rising star in stand-up who attracted notoriety for her blistering Comedy Central Celebrity Roasts of Charlie Sheen and Roseanne (coincidentally, Apatow’s first job was as a writer on Roseanne). “When I saw Bridesmaids, I went with my friend Nikki Glaser who’s a comic, and we rode our bikes there and then walked home in silence,” recalls Schumer. “We could tell it was a big deal. We didn’t go in thinking, ‘Oh, finally women!’ but we left thinking it could be a game changer.”
Indeed it was. In the wake of Bridesmaids came the TV series Girls, The Mindy Project, Orange Is the New Black, and Broad City, Melissa McCarthy’s slingshot to the A-list, and—of course—the recently announced all-female Ghostbusters reboot, directed by Apatow protégé Paul Feig. And Schumer, it was revealed in the hacked Sony emails, was even considered for a proton pack-sporting role in Feig’s upcoming movie. “I saw that email! Sorry that happened, but I was psyched to be on that list,” Schumer says. “Me and Jennifer Lawrence, yeah.”
As an industry veteran who’s pretty much shaped the course of comedy over the past decade, Apatow is a bit more pragmatic when it comes to this gender sea change.
“Hollywood chases the money, so as soon as you can prove to them that women are dying to have movies like these, they’ll try to make them,” he says. “Sex and the City was a gigantic hit. I remember walking into the theater and it was just a mob scene. And you also have Fifty Shades of Grey. Women are more than half of the world, and the amount of male movies they have to sit through is very unfortunate for them.”
There is, of course, a bit of a double standard when it comes to male-geared fare versus female-geared fare, although perhaps it has to do with our respective maturity levels. “These movies are hard to make because they have to be deep and thoughtful,” Apatow says of female-driven comedies. “I don’t think women will tolerate them if they’re shallow and dumb. You can make a dumb action movie and guys will like it for the explosions. But movies like these really have to make sense and be strong, or women won’t go.”
Well, Trainwreck is that exceptional “strong” film, anchored by an emotionally nuanced turn from Schumer, who handles comedy and drama with aplomb. Apatow came across Schumer while cruising around L.A. one day. He was listening to Howard Stern’s Sirius XM broadcast and Schumer was the guest, and he was taken aback by just how witty and introspective she was.
“Amy was so interesting that I didn’t leave, I just sat there in my car listening,” says Apatow. “She was telling all these stories about her relationships, and about her dad and how she deals with that emotionally. It was very brutal, and also very sweet and funny. I thought, ‘Wow, she really sounds like a screenwriter.’”
So after he finished This Is 40, Apatow met with Schumer and the two began carving away at a screenplay around 2013. Schumer based the tale on a time in her life when she was, let’s say, coming into her own.
“I was a late bloomer sexually, compared to my friends,” says Schumer. “I lost my virginity at 18, and then sophomore year of college I kind of went through a Samantha on Sex and the City phase where I was spreading myself really thin. And then no. I feel sexually liberated and that I own my sexuality, but I don’t sleep around. The funniest stories, for me, are sex-based. They’re so weird, embarrassing, and humiliating. If I go up and I tell three [stand-up] stories about sex, people think, ‘Oh my god, this girl always has her legs over her head,’ but actually, that’s over the course of years. I’ve not been too promiscuous over the last 10 years, but I definitely think about the time that I was, and how painful that was.”
That Schumer’s character is a prolific boozer in Trainwreck, a gal whose idea of sobriety is pounding four mixed drinks in an evening, is pretty fitting. After all, booze runs in her family—and no, I’m not talking about her cousin Chuck Schumer; I’m talking about her great-grandmother, Estelle Schumer, who was one of the earliest bootleggers in Manhattan.
“Her liquor store is still there, Schumer’s Liquors on 54th Street,” says a proud Schumer. “After Prohibition, they were the No. 7 liquor license in New York. She was a badass. She’d always say, ‘Hide your money from the men,’ and lived in a studio apartment in a trundle bed into her 90s.”
Talk about a tough broad.