Trainwreck 

Okay, so there’s this guy in this light hearted comedy. He’s got a girlfriend that’s not very bright but she’s got a great body. The man is afraid of commitment though so he sleeps around with lots of other women, never letting them stay over in fear of the fact that he’d have to get to know them beyond people he can just have sex with. Then he meets a smart but mousey and kind of shy girl. He’s not really interested in her considerable professional accomplishments but he likes the look of her so by being a bit pushy gets her to take him back to her place. As soon as they arrive at her apartment he strips down and leaps on the girl just assuming she wants him too. He begins to remove her clothes and while she doesn’t ask him to stop she certainly isn’t in control of the situation at all. After sex he does go against his normal rule and spends the night but asks the girl not to breathe on the back of his neck while they’re sleeping. The next day he blows her off and while they do eventually start a relationship, once she has seen him be vulnerable, they begin to argue and he jumps in bed with someone else more youthful and better looking, who is incidentally played by a celebrated young actress but is just cast as a sex object here. How does this sound? Is this a plot line you are comfortable with? Is it perhaps just a little sexist? Well take that entire thing and swap the genders round and you’ve got Trainwreck.

Clearly I’m not going to criticise the film for its blatant misandry, I get the joke, but I’m not sure how well it works. I can’t quite put my finger on whether it’s too subtle or too obvious but either way having set up the conceit it doesn’t really do anything with it. Having made a statement about gender inequality in cinema it then seems to pull its punches.

Other movies have tried to turn over romcom traditions before, Friends With Benefits, They Came Together and The Five Year Engagement among them, but they always end up falling back on genre conventions. Trainwreck, for all of its role reversing, is ultimately more conventional than most. Yes there may be a knowing fun relationship montage in the middle but there is also a race against time through busy city streets to say how you really feel followed by an overblown and theatrical declaration of love the like of which could only ever happen in a movie. Again, I am sure it is all deliberate but there is a point at which parody is so on the nose that it just becomes the thing that it is mocking.

Crucially, and I suspect you’d realised this was the case, I didn’t think Trainwreck was funny or biting enough. Certainly it was gently amusing but I expect the film makers were going for something more than this. Similarly I didn’t really care about the central couple either and wasn’t worried if they stayed together or not. When your romcom falls down on both the rom and the com then you’ve missed the mark a little. Comedy is a very hard thing to satirise and while I applaud the film for highlighting gender issues I don’t think Trainwreck is as clever as it needs to be.

The Ripley Factor?
Trainwreck clearly has feminist intentions but its portrayal of women does not really live up to these. The main character Amy is the trainwreck of the title so is intentionally a poor role model but most of the women surrounding her fair little better. Tilda Swinton gives a broad comedy performance that needs better material to justify it and Vanessa Bayer is fairly forgettable as the best friend. Thank goodness once again for Brie Larson who after shining in a string of supporting parts and hitting it out of the park in Short Term 12 has to land the high profile role she deserves some time soon. As Amy’s sister Kim, Larson is the only truly likeable character, of either gender, in the whole film. She is smart, she is confident and she is patient but on her own she is not enough.

Is this one for the kids?
Trainwreck is not intended for a young audience, it contains mild sex scenes (with of course, more male than female nudity) and not so mild sex talk.

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