There's a lot of potential lurking inside Trainwreck, Judd Apatow's fifth movie as director and the first film written by and starring comedian Amy Schumer. Apatow is a former standup comic who innovated the "bromantic" comedy by writing and directing popular movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. These films tend to focus on close friendships among young male characters suffering from arrested development and feature an ensemble of talented actors Apatow helped make famous, including Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel and Paul Rudd.
But as a creative force, Apatow sometimes seems to have peaked early, working on groundbreaking and widely admired TV programs such as Freaks and Geeks and The Larry Sanders Show. Even a lengthy and fawning interview with Apatow in the current issue of Rolling Stone damns the filmmaker with faint praise by describing him as the most "prominent" guy in film comedy, instead of the funniest, most innovative or influential.
As creator and star of Comedy Central's sketch comedy series Inside Amy Schumer and in her career as a standup comedian, Schumer has developed a ribald and often dark style of humor with a sharp feminist edge. She would seem the perfect antidote to Apatow's cinematic boys' club and his mostly safe and conventional films.
While Schumer's intermittently hilarious one-liners and offbeat screen presence initially elevate Trainwreck, the film gradually embraces romantic-comedy conventions and misses the opportunity to explore uncharted territory. There probably won't be a funnier movie at the multiplex this summer, but Trainwreck is more about the older and more established Apatow bringing Schumer into his pre-existing world than vice versa.
Apatow encouraged Schumer to put a lot of her own life into the screenplay, a technique that has proved essential to her career so far. In Trainwreck, she plays Amy, a staff writer for a crass men's magazine called S'Nuff, who hasn't been successful in relationships with men. She can't seem to stay faithful to her current beau Steven (John Cena) and generally uses sex as a barrier to real intimacy. Assigned a story on superstar sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), she finds herself actually liking him and confronted with the scary proposition of couplehood. Can they overcome their differences and allow true love to prevail?
Conners' status in the sports world allows for Trainwreck's strangest conceit, which is to bring an endless parade of star athletes (awkwardly playing themselves) into a major Hollywood movie. LeBron James actually gets a full supporting role as Conners' best friend and would-be advisor on his love life, and it's hard to tell whether or not his bizarre presence is intended as self-parody. By the time we get to Amar'e Stoudemire, Tony Romo, basketball announcer Marv Albert and many others, Trainwreck is in danger of going off the rails in a doomed attempt to draw male sports fans to a mainstream romantic comedy.
Apatow's primary gift may be his ability to identify talented comedic actors and give them the opportunities they need to advance their careers, and in that sense he's a great match for Schumer. Trainwreck will make her a movie star, if that's what she chooses to be. You've got to hope Schumer will aim a little higher, just as Trainwreck might have done.