I went to see Amy Schumer’s new romantic comedy Trainwreck this weekend. I had high expectations, given the significant media hype surrounding the release of the film. Schumer has proven that she does not shy away from conversations about body issues, gender, or feminism in her television work, and she brings this to her roles as writer and lead trainwreck, Amy.
The movie is not perfect: it is overwhelmingly white and privileged (though it does laugh about it), and Amy is oven disparaging and judgmental of those around her. She is also selfish and at one point really hurts someone with her inability to clarify that she does not want monogamy (clear communication is basically non-monogamy 101). The big ‘come to jesus’ moment for Amy, where she does fuck up pretty royally, is not a situation I am particularly comfortable making light of, but the bar is low for Rom-Coms.
Romantic Comedies feature hyperbolic parodies of the reality of dating, filled with limited and narrow characters that are often the most outrageously stereotyped of people. What is refreshing about Trainwreck is that it removes many of the traditional rom-com blinders, and allows for the hilarity of a believable situation to amuse its audience (and in some cases, make us uncomfortable with how close to home it hits).
When I think about a ‘trainwreck’, I think about the penultimate fuckup of a person. A trainwreck is a person that society disapproves of, but also loves to watch fail. Amy shows us a different side of the stereotype. She is deeply concerned for the wellbeing of her difficult to love father, holds down a job as a writer, and isn’t into settling down just yet. When did drinking, smoking pot, and sleeping around make someone a failure? I’m not completely sold on this character actually living up to the title of the film, but I could see how others might. In the context of many of her peers, in particular her married and expectant sister and her friends, Amy is bucking trends by being uninterested in monogamy and children.
I liked seeing a woman asking for what she wants in bed. It is so important to see women having sex on their terms- to see sex as something they are active participants in instead of something that just happens to them. Sex in Trainwreck was depicted realistically; as a thing people like to have, but that can be awkward, and messy, and afterwards when you are hot and sweaty you don’t always want to have someone breathing on the back of your neck while you are trying to fall asleep.
Showing a female character that can party, handle the immense family pressure to care for a terminally ill parent, and still manage a job is important. I call this dealing with real life, and I would argue that this is a baseline for dynamism that many representations of women in Hollywood lack. Showing her with multiple sexual partners and being unashamed of it might as well be groundbreaking with the way our culture participates in the policing of women’s bodies and sexual activity.
I liked that Amy struggled with emotional vulnerability and fear of being hurt, I liked that her love interest repeatedly assured her that her lifestyle was not going to force him away while being honest that they weren’t things he would normally condone. I found the honesty between them to feel very real. At one point they are having a fight, and although Bill Hader’s character assures her that it’s just a fight and they would get through it, emotionally distant Amy assumes things between them are over. I don’t know about you, but it took me a long time to learn that every conflict is not the end of a relationship, in part because a lot of rom-coms use a large fight as the moment when either character has to make a really big decision about what they want, and how they will change for or be saved by the relationship. This movie does not feature a relationship based on sacrificing who they are in order to be considered loveable or worthwhile.
Amy doesn’t make a change to her lifestyle because her love interest has ‘fixed’ her, or because she causes herself irreparable personal, professional, or financial ruin. She changes her lifestyle because she believes that it is no longer good for her or giving her what she wants. Female characters are often limited to being baby-crazy, or career obsessed, and the premise of the romantic-comedy focuses on how to change them in order for them to fall in love and achieve the ultimate happiness. Trainwreck’s romance did not change Amy’s personality, and it played out as a very real complement to her life: she suffered pain and loss, handled personal and professional failures, and took initiative independent from her relationship to channel them into positive growth in her own life. This kind of agency for a female character in romantic comedy is significant, and I was pleased to see it.