Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany
Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Trainwreck | Film Review

Meg Ryan making stalking downright cute

Once upon a time I was talking to Julia Sweeney about how I had enjoyed the Meg Ryan vehicle French Kiss, when I noticed she seemed fairly unenthusiastic in her assent. When pressed, she explained “It was okay, but why is it always actresses instead of comedians in these movies ?” Her objection, obvious once it was voiced but invisible until then: the casting of actresses in romantic comedy revolved, predictably, around their prettiness. Then Michael Eisner says there are no funny women. That's called The Circle of Life, kids.

The poster to Trainwreck announces that this is not Sleepless in Seattle. If you are looking for an ingratiating, non-threatening female lead you’ve come to the wrong place.
From the ho-hum response of most reviewers, however, it seems like they mostly didn't notice. It’s just a, you know, romantic comedy. Nothing to see. It turns out she ends up with the guy. How boring is that?  
To which I reply: if you don’t want the girl to end up with the guy, ever, romantic comedy might not be the genre for you. ( Incidentally, the two reviews I happened to stumble upon also happened to be by men,  Anthony Lane and Joe Morgenstern. These dudes take a massive number of cunnilingus jokes in stride, that's all I can say.)

Do we ask whether Marx Bros. or W.C. Fields films have challenging  plots, or even plots that make sense? And if so, where does the harp playing come in? The most subversive comedic approach has been to regard the plot only as a vehicle for delivering funny lines (an approach Anthony Lane should appreciate, incidentally, given how difficult it is to discover his verdict of any given film. What are moving pictures, after all, but occasions for witty put-downs?). To cite one example, W.C Field’s Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, about a guy trying to peddle a script he has written in Hollywood, the bare-bones, self-referential comedy plot doesn’t pose a problem in itself.

W.C. Fields of course

Come to think about it, something about Amy Schumer, maybe the bibulousness,  is very reminiscent of W.C. Fields. Or better yet, Mae West, whose rubbery face, va voom body, and major attitude place her out of the realm of mere actors and into that of attitude peddlers like Schumer. Give this woman a cigar and a gold lame gown. . .

A young Mae West wrote and produced her own material

Like Fields and West, Schumer writes much of her own material, and though the script is predictable at times, it provides some delightful twists. Her casting of Tilda Swinton as the British editor of an outrageous online men’s magazine called S’Nuff, a sort of female Nick Denton , is a particularly nice touch . And the scenes of eager young reporters trying to outgross and inappropriate each other seem especially prescient given these week’s meltdown at  Gawker.

And casting herself as a reporter for S’Nuff allows Schumer to explore her character’s edginess, while simultaneously turning the cutesy  usual professions of romantic comedy heroines -- gourmet cupcake baker is a popular one -- on their ass. The over-the-top nature of the new media is a great satirical subject, adding some heft, as well as a needed update to the romantic comedy genre, which frequently seems to be stuck in early sixties Pillow Talk mode.

Romantic comedy has suffered from an image problem for at least the last few decades (probably not a coincidence it is a genre almost entirely centered on women). If the Reeses and Sandras want to win their Oscars, they better not tarry in that part of town too long, whatever the financial rewards. Judd Apatow, the director of this film as well as producer of many other innovative, women-centered efforts, including Girls and Bridesmaids.
Not to belabor the point, but the true formula for the success of Bridesmaids was, in a word, Kristin Wiig. A woman drawing on years of experience writing and performing (from Saturday Night Live, as opposed to the Pilates studio) was finally being allowed to strut her stuff in a romantic comedy. When that exploded, Apatow reinvested in Schumer. And so on, and so on. . .until one day,ideally, we get our Sarah Silverman rom com. That will be a real happy ending.

--Grace Lovelace

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