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Film Review: "Trainwreck"

Sex and the single girl


So the idea, they say, is to write what you know, but since men make up more than 80 percent of the screenwriters in Hollywood, we've long been subjected to a cavalcade of female protagonists created without any actual insider info. (Just kidding! What female protagonists?) The majority of fictional women in movies are fabricated from supposition, cliché, and fantasy, with romantic-comedy heroines in particular usually operating under the comforting assumption that marriage and kids are the Holy Grail, and the physical business is just a means to an end. The female characters who love sex are traditionally the hot-mess best friend, the manipulative bitch, and -- well, I think that's it. Sex is about power (according to Oscar Wilde), and one-dimensional women are easier to handle ... or would be if they actually existed.

The authentic, profane, and surprisingly radical genius of comedian Amy Schumer does not lie in the fact that she's unafraid to reflect that we chicks contain multiple dimensions, many of them embarrassingly ugly, but in that she uses herself as the defiant vehicle to illustrate her points. Schumer has been riding a wave of acclaim for her killer TV show "Inside Amy Schumer," which laces silly, raunchy bits with razor-sharp feminist commentary. And in her hilariously perceptive rom-com "Trainwreck," she continues to combine her brash comedy with casual crucifixion, making her feature film debut as both a devastatingly smart screenwriter and very capable leading lady.

As is her usual M.O., Schumer plays a character named Amy, first glimpsed in flashback as a pre-teen being lectured by her father (the underappreciated Colin Quinn) on the horrors of monogamy, then seen a couple decades later putting that advice into practice with a montage of men, explaining to us in voiceover how she's perfectly content with her boozy, sex-positive lifestyle. (Or: "Don't judge me, f**kers.") Amy writes for a men's magazine called "S'Nuff" (the matchless Tilda Swinton flexes her comedic chops as Amy's blunt editor), and her latest assignment is a profile on Manhattan sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader, an unlikely but excellent leading-man choice). Naturally, Amy and Aaron hit it off, and while he seems a little shocked by -- but definitely not unhappy with -- her sexual boldness, she's completely floored by his matter-of-fact insistence that they start dating.

Now, romantic-comedy rules dictate that both Amy and Aaron have support systems; she is super-tight with her happily married sister Kim (Brie Larson, in a lovely performance), and he regularly confides in his close friend, basketball superstar and serial cheapskate LeBron James. (King James proves to be a humble master of comic timing.)

"Trainwreck" unfolds as Amy tries to wrangle her selfish, freewheeling ways into the perceived confines of an adult relationship with Aaron, which is where Schumer's mostly audacious script butts up against director Judd Apatow, who has made a career out of indecisive men-children straightening up and flying right. It's tempting to blame him for the tritely happy ending, a rarified world in which Madison Square Garden is a personal playground -- though you can probably chalk it up to a studio wary of ceding complete control of a movie to a mischievous wild card like Schumer.

But between Schumer, Apatow (who consistently throws his massive clout behind talented women like Schumer and Lena Dunham), and the stacked cast, there was never any doubt that "Trainwreck" would work. Of course Schumer is funny here, her delivery is at once unique and familiar, but she also fares well in her dramatic scenes, which actually dovetail nicely with the comedy and don't feel like forced attempts at conflict. Many of the faces on screen have also been on Schumer's show, like comedians Mike Birbiglia and Dave Attell, along with the riotously slimy Jon Glaser, but watch out for former WWE wrestler John Cena, who goes for broke as Amy's sorta-boyfriend. He is a scream in an awkward sex scene early in the film, reportedly ad-libbing most of his ridiculous lines.

It's hard to overstate what a minor miracle it feels like to see the entrenched gender roles reversed in "Trainwreck," with the woman as the reluctant, immature party unsure about giving up her sexual freedom and the man as the patient romantic, with coupledom his desired end-game. And even though you've almost certainly encountered it in real life, have you ever heard the main female character in a romantic comedy use the word "f**k" as a verb? It's Amy Schumer's world now, people, and it's about f**king time.