“What’s wrong with you that you want to be with me?” asks Amy, the intimacy-averse writer whose troubles are the subject of “Trainwreck,” a surprisingly touching and raucously funny R-rated comedy written by and starring Amy Schumer.
The poignant scene arrives in the middle of this broad, bawdy movie like a Trojan horse, after punchlines about monogamy, A-Rod and Staten Island, when Amy disappoints her boyfriend, Aaron, a disarmingly decent sports doctor played by Bill Hader. Schumer and director Judd Apatow seemed at first to be mocking love stories, only to reveal that they have actually been making one.
Don’t be distracted by its low-cut blouse, “Trainwreck” is all about the heart, as the movie asks a question that has paid therapists’ and pop singers’ bills for years — do naughty girls need love too? (Spoiler alert: You bet they do!). Finding that love involves several hilarious, you-only-live-once-era detours for Schumer, in the kind of lovable screw-up role that made Bill Murray a star.
Apatow, working in his signature tone of sweet raunch, directs another writer’s script for the first time, and the comedic marriage is a fruitful one, as Schumer delivers the kind of tartly feminist laughs that helped her Comedy Central show, “Inside Amy Schumer,” win a Peabody Award this spring and receive seven Emmy nominations on Thursday.
In the film, she’s refined her stand-up and TV persona, also named Amy, into a hard-partying, occasionally clueless writer for a trashy men’s magazine who delivers one-liners that communicate both a brash world view and her own crippling emotional defensiveness — “You’re gonna lose us the right to vote!” she shouts to some Knicks cheerleaders who made her feel frumpy.
In scenes like the argument with Hader’s Aaron — and even more so a stirring funeral eulogy she delivers — Schumer also reveals surprising range, displaying a true vulnerability that explains the tossed barbs and empty bottles.
That her goofy persona plays so well is in part a tribute to Hader, a generous, dreamboaty straight man. His subtle, often wordless reactions perfectly punctuate scenes such as when sports-hating Amy claims her favorite team is the Orlando Blooms. As Amy doubts whether she should be with someone so kind, her sister, Kim, played with warmth and restraint by Brie Larsen, assures her that, “He’s the perfect amount of nice that you deserve.”
The cast is studded with recognizable comics, most notably Colin Quinn as Amy and Kim’s father, Gordon, who appears in the opening scene in a childhood flashback to establish Amy’s commitment-phobia origin story. Like Schumer’s real father, Gordon has multiple sclerosis, and her empathy for him hints at her struggle to show such kindness to herself.
Schumer’s comedy has come under criticism lately for what the Guardian called a “blind spot about race,” and she recently apologized on Twitter for an old stand-up joke about Latino men. She’s clearly evolving in her voice as a writer, and Quinn’s character, who spouts offensive comments about nearly every type of human being while still remaining defiantly charming, seems to embody an idea she wants to express — that sometimes the people we care about the most are racist, homophobic or otherwise deeply flawed. It’s an idea I hope she continues to develop as a comic.
Other gems in the supporting cast include Tilda Swinton, an utterly unrecognizable testament to the power of bronzer as Amy’s deliciously mean editor, Mike Birbiglia as her sweet, lumpy brother-in-law, and stand-up comic Dave Attell as a homeless guy who narrates her frequent walks of shame. LeBron James, who plays himself as a friend and patient of Aaron’s, has the most significant role of several athletes who appear in the film, and his performance reflects impressive off-court timing and a sense of humor about his own image.
At just over two hours, the feature is Apatow’s shortest ever as a director, but it still could use a haircut, and some scenes seem to exist solely for their punchlines, not to advance the story. It’s awfully entertaining, though, to see the man behind the bro comedies “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” shooting a woman’s world, with the help of “Tiny Furniture” cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes.
Apatow also produced the Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo script “Bridesmaids” and Lena Dunham’s HBO show “Girls,” and his work with female collaborators is some of his best. In its R-rated comedic portrayal of sex from a female point of view, “Trainwreck” continues in a more graphic way a path forged memorably by Meg Ryan’s fake-orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally.”
“Trainwreck” is stuffed with visual references to other New York-set films, including “Working Girl” and “Manhattan,” and makes terrific use of the city as a backdrop for love with exuberant set pieces, particularly a courtship montage in Central Park and a final, energetic, cheer-worthy sequence shot at Madison Square Garden.
Schumer and Apatow seem to be aiming for an updated version of those kind of smart, funny and heartfelt comedies of an earlier era. That’s a high bar and even if they don’t quite clear it, both star and director have raised each other’s game.
Rated: R, for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use
Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Playing: In general release
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