‘Trainwreck’ Could’ve Been Great Without All The Cheesy Cameos And Aimless Riffing

Look, I like jokes, from the fartiest farts to the smuggest NPR puns, but I also think comedy movies are funnier and better when the people involved commit to the story. There’s a good story in Trainwreck that would have been better served if practically every scene didn’t end with 20 superfluous seconds of the characters slowly looking out toward the audience going, “Have you seen this? Have you heard of this? Kanye West, am I right? My point is he’s arrogant.”

Trainwreck feels like some talented, funny people got together to make each other laugh but couldn’t quite decide whether they were making a movie or a live sketch show. And so they end up with a laugh-filled whatsit that isn’t particularly memorable in any way. Maybe it’s a false misdirect. Maybe Trainwreck was supposed to be Stepbrothers with tampon jokes, and I just read too much into the opening scene where Colin Quinn’s character makes his daughters repeat “monogamy isn’t realistic” (a fantastic scene, incidentally, and Colin Quinn is brilliant all the way through). But to me it felt like there was a real story here, about a woman trying to live her life according to her own values system, and I think that could’ve been funny on its own, without 20 minutes of sh*tty, winking Lebron James jokes. I picture a producer somewhere saying “hey, let’s put some Lebron stuff in here so the boyfriends don’t fall asleep from all this lady talk, am I right fellas? How ’bout a joke about how much he likes Cleveland?”

It’s kind of infuriating to watch a movie that gives Lebron James so much screen time (with basically one joke, that Lebron is kind of a nerd, which is a patronizing premise to begin with), along with an Amar’e Stoudamire scene, a Method Man scene, and a Marv Albert scene (all varying degrees of unfunny, the last two tremendously so), when Dave Atell, Mike Birbiglia and Tim Meadows get about 30 seconds of combined screen time. For the love of Christ, can someone get Tim Meadows more work? Haven’t you people seen Walk Hard or Mean Girls? (I assume Judd Apatow has, he produced Walk Hard). And hey, Judd, maybe consider using your off time to hang with celebrities.

In moving between being a storyteller and being a comedian (and you can be both), one of the hardest lessons for a comedian to learn is that more laughs isn’t always better (in this humble critic’s opinion). The tendency in comedy is to stretch, to riff, to believe that any tag is a good tag as long as the audience laughs. You’ve got 6 minutes? Try to do 10. Got 10 minutes? Try 20. The audience is sitting out there not being able to talk amongst themselves, so it’s on you. Entertain them by any means necessary. Whip out your dick if you lose them with the 9/11 stuff.

With a story, more laughs isn’t always more. Just because you can squeeze 10 laughs out of a scene doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Not when the laughs are slowing down the pacing and crapping on a great point you just made.

Trainwreck sees Schumer and Apatow try to wring every single laugh out of every single scene, no matter how trivial, pointless or self-defeating that scene might be. It’s a formula that makes for a lot of laughs, but also tedium. I know you’re having fun, guys, but someone needs to step in and do some editing here. Maybe they just shouldn’t have tantalized me by making me feel like there was more here than a collection of sketches and bits. A lot of Trainwreck‘s sketches and bits are pretty decent. It would’ve been easier to enjoy them if they didn’t feel like a sort of deflection, like a last minute escape into easy topical humor to avoid any honest introspection. These characters are interesting, I don’t need to hear their extemporaneous riffs about Taylor Swift.

Celebrity cameos are the ranch dressing of comedy. Here, drown it in this, in case Joe Sixpack doesn’t like it!

Trainwreck starts off telling us “monogamy isn’t realistic” and sets up Amy Schumer’s character as a sort of anti-hero who doesn’t need society’s rules. Only later, it turns out that the character saying monogamy isn’t realistic was just a big jerk, and Amy goes through a “cleanin’ up her act” montage where she throws away her bongs and presumably swears off promiscuity in order to complete her character arc. Wait, really? Your hero’s journey is to swear off booze and casual sex in order to achieve bland conformity? Yeesh, that’s really not the movie I thought I was watching. It’s an infuriating sequence that basically destroys any vestige of anything the first half of the movie had built up to that point.

Trainwreck can’t seem to decide whether it wants to critique the rom-com or be a rom-com. There’s a precocious kid in it with too much hair and a lisp (classic rom-com element). Amy’s character hates him, which is sort of a twist, but there’s never quite a critique or comment on that story element. In fact, I think Trainwreck wanted us to like the lisp kid (shudder). Likewise, Amy works as a writer at “S’Nuff Magazine,” and her boss and co-workers there (Tilda Swinton, Randall Park, Vanessa Bayer and Jon Glaser) are all pretty funny. But what Twilight Zone is this where a men’s magazine is doing well enough to support a full-time writing staff who show up to their glamorous Manhattan headquarters wearing ties and go home to nice apartments? Is this set in 1997? It almost feels like that at some point, Trainwreck was supposed to be partly a parody of Sex and The City, but they ditched that element along the way and now we’re just supposed to accept these weird Sex and the City anachronisms at face-value.

I saw Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer on their Trainwreck comedy tour a few weeks ago, where they were both equal parts earnest, funny and delightful (Dave Atell and Mike Birbiglia are also still the best). I think I have at least a cursory understanding of their comedic sensibilities. Trainwreck feels like they didn’t trust people enough to care about this narrative, and so they stuffed it full of hacky cameos and deflectionary riffing. Gotta make sure people won’t get bored! For me it had the opposite effect. It felt like watching comedians I like pander to an audience I don’t.

Grade: C+

Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.