Back in July, I wrote about how much I was looking forward to Amy Schumer’s movie, Trainwreck. Of course I had to see it right away, which I did, but sadly, I was really disappointed by it. I’ve been meaning to write about it since then, and I’d started a blog post, but with the passage of time it no longer felt relevant. Well, with NaBloPoMo forcing me to post every day, and Trainwreck coming out on DVD tomorrow, I figured it was the perfect topic for a Movie Monday!
I know, anticipation and expectations have a huge effect on how we enjoy movies, and the more we’re excited about something, the higher the risk of being disappointed by it. But that doesn’t always happen, and though I was excited about Trainwreck, I was also apprehensive. I was afraid it would be too raunchy, too gross. It was certainly risque, but that wasn’t why I found it disappointing. To put it simply, I agree with every single thing Stephanie Zacharek said in her review in L.A. Weekly.
As you can see simply in her headline, Schumer and Judd Apatow thought they were making a feminist movie, and that’s a big reason I was excited to see it.
They failed. Miserably.
Feminism is on a scale, apparently, and people make steps toward more equality in small increments. It’s somewhat understandable, because we’re fighting against centuries of gender bias and randomly placed, yet strongly enforced, rules for gender decorum. It also takes time for different people to realize what it means, and why something is a problem. I’ve learned a lot about feminism (as well as racial, economic, and ableist) politics lately, in large thanks to a few writing groups I’m involved with on Facebook. While others may think Trainwreck is a step forward as a feminist statement, I don’t think it’s as successful as it thinks.
I should say that I enjoyed the first half of the movie. I liked Amy’s relationship with her family, and I laughed a lot. But about midway through the movie, there was a turning point. At the start I was unsure how I felt about Amy’s character, a version of the real Schumer also named Amy, but by that middle point, I realized I did not like her. While I laughed at several of the things she said or did, as she got more involved with the sports doctor, Aaron Connor (Bill Hader), she became unlikable and a mess. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, because human beings are flawed and there are plenty of unlikable male characters (though I don’t love them all either), and many say that is what “trainwreck” means. (Perhaps I need to look up the word again.) But what I disliked more about her was that she treated Aaron terribly.
My response was not just a “what a horrible person she is to do that to another person” reaction to her behavior, but the way she acted seemed stereotypically “feminine.” Like, the worst of stereotypical female behavior. Schumer addresses these behaviors frequently in her sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, to point out how ridiculous some of women’s behavior is, but it seems more exaggerated, more satirical, as a way of illustrating its ludicrousness. In the film, it was too serious. It wasn’t exaggerated enough—though that probably would have been too incongruous with the mood of the movie, so I understand. But that means it came across as honest, and definitely flawed.
My husband Alex asked me if the Zacharek review influenced my approach going in to the movie, since I read it before I went. That is possible, but I don’t think so, because I didn’t remember her writing about any of the problems I had with the film. She did say them, but I didn’t remember them. What I did remember was Zacharek’s comments about how it’s still a fairly classic romantic comedy, relying on tropes with a perfect Hollywood ending, and as free-spirited and playing the field as Amy is, the only solution to her “problem” (and we’re supposed to see that freedom as a problem) is to be in a committed relationship and start a family.
I do agree with Zacharek’s complaints there: that shouldn’t have to be the only progression for the character. Yet I struggle with it, and don’t know how I would end it myself, because as much as I think slut-shaming is wrong, I also hold fairly traditional values about monogamy. But my bigger issue with the film was Amy continuing to act out the worst possible behaviors of stereotypical women once she got involved with a man she actually liked.
After seeing the film, I went back and read the review again, and I agree with pretty much everything. I’m all for Amy playing the field and being a sexual person—as long as she doesn’t hurt herself or anyone else, she can do whatever she likes—but she doesn’t seem to get anything out of it. She doesn’t enjoy what she’s doing, so why do it? I guess that’s part of the “trainwreck” definition too.
I also, absolutely, felt that if Schumer were directing her own version of this film, it wouldn’t have ended the same way. I suspect that Apatow had a lot more to do with it, and influenced Schumer to have a fun, Hollywood, romcom ending. I suspect that without Apatow’s influence, it would have been a more successful feminist vehicle. But we have no way of knowing that yet. I wonder if we’ll ever know.
I do appreciate the strides they took in this film: it’s a big budget movie centered around a female character and telling her point of view; she’s a complex and flawed character; and she’s defiantly free about her sexual choices without any slut-shaming. But ultimately, the fact that she’s totally unlikable until she enters into a loving, monogamous relationship headed toward family and homelife, that her worst behavior is the most stereotypically “female” behavior possible, and the message that she cannot be emotionally fulfilled until she becomes the version of “woman” that fits in with a gendered definition of “woman,” the movie doesn’t go far enough as a feminist film.
So how about you, readers? Did you see Trainwreck? Did you enjoy it, or do you also feel it wasn’t as feminist as it set out to be? Or are you not as concerned about such things as long as you were entertained?