Is ‘Trainwreck’ a feminist success or feminist failure?

0 Flares 0 Flares ×
Amy Schumer wrote and stars in "Trainwreck." Photo provided

Amy Schumer wrote and stars in “Trainwreck.” Photo provided

Before Trainwreck even opened in theaters last week with an impressive $30.2 million – beating out the opening for 2011’s Bridesmaids and going a long way to covering its $35 million budget, according to Variety.com – writer and star Amy Schumer already was being lauded not only as Hollywood’s new “it” girl but also as a new feminist icon.

Schumer herself would be the first to point out that her shoulders are sturdier than those of the average Hollywood waif – prepare for laugh-out-loud hilarity when she talks about working out with a hotshot trainer to the stars in this clip from Live with Kelly and Michael – but that’s a heavy load of expectation to put on a seasoned star of stand-up and the small screen making her first foray into film.

From a box-office standpoint, Trainwreck is a success: Last weekend when it opened, the somewhat raunchy romantic comedy came in behind only the latest Marvel and Despicable Me movies with its $30.2 million take, according to HitFix.com. Deadline.com estimates that Trainwreck will come in at No. 4 this weekend, dipping 43 percent in its sophomore weekend with $17.28 million and a 10-day cumulative of $61.5 million. (The movie’s box-office success has not been slowed by Thursday’s shooting in Lafayette, La., where a man who has been described as mentally ill and an anti-feminist killed three people, including himself, reports Slate.com.)

The star of Comedy Central’s Peabody Award-winning series Inside Amy Schumer, Schumer is known for calling out sexism where she sees it in both her TV and stand-up shows, but she said her role as the new face of feminism has taken her by surprise.

“It was very unexpected. I don’t try to be feminist. I just am. It’s innately inside me. I have no interest in trying to be the perfect feminist, but I do believe feminists are in good hands with me,” Schumer said in a Q&A conducted by her sister and Inside Amy Schumer collaborator Kim Caramele for Glamour magazine.

It’s a good thing she isn’t trying to be the “perfect feminist” because reactions have been mixed to her Trainwreck, despite its 85 percent “fresh” rating at RottenTomatoes.com. Alexandra Villarreal in the New York Post declares, “There’s nothing trailblazing about Trainwreck. It’s Taming of the Shrew with 21st-century vulgarity. And its misogynistic tripe shouldn’t be excused just because it’s written by Amy Schumer,” while Jessica Goldstein’s ThinkProgress.org piece is titled “The Brilliance of Trainwreck” and declares, “if you are already Team Schumer, Trainwreck will not disappoint. Her unedited voice shines through every scene.” Judith Timson in The Toronto Star calls Trainwreck “not brave enough,” while describing an impromptu ladies room dissection of the film in which a couple of twenty-somethings called it “‘OK’ but not fantastic.”

After seeing it this weekend for myself, I believe Trainwreck is somewhat successful as a feminist film, but mostly that it is what it is: a romantic comedy.

Here is my analysis, with spoilers for those of you who haven’t seen it for yourself:

The ways Trainwreck succeeds as a feminist piece:

Choose who you are. Schumer’s character, also named Amy, doesn’t stop drinking hard, smoking pot or having one-night stands with any man who crosses her path because she feels ashamed, because she wants to conform to society’s point of view of what women should (or shouldn’t) do or even because she wants to win back her nice-guy boyfriend Aaron (Bill Hader).

She finally decides, after his death, to stop blindly conforming to her beloved but dysfunctional father’s (Colin Quinn) ideals – particularly his self-justifying creed “monogamy is not realistic” – and decide for herself who she wants to be. Part of becoming a fully realized individual is deciding what beliefs and traits of our parents that we want to perpetuate and what ones that we want to let go.

The behavior that used to be fun and desirable to Amy doesn’t work for her anymore, so she decides to changes it. I’m not sure if it gets more feminist than that.

Amy Schumer, the writer. At the behest of director Judd Apatow (also a producer on HBO’s Girls), Schumer wrote the script for Trainwreck, and then rewrote it to be more honest and personalized.

“The first time around, I wanted to write a movie that he would want to make,” Schumer told the Los Angeles Times. With her second attempt, she pulled material straight from her own experiences. “Not even parallels to my life,” she said. “Just, like, same lane.”

Fans of her previous work will recognize Schumer’s frank, funny and often filthy voice in the movie; the bridal shower scene is pulled almost verbatim from her stand-up.

We desperately need more women behind the camera in the film industry, including women writers. And those women need to be able to write in their own voice, even if their critics – and their fans, too – don’t quite agree with the tone.

Roles rewritten. I don’t consider the recasting of a male stereotype – the bad-boy guy who sleeps around and parties hard – as a female lead character a particularly feminist move. But I much prefer Schumer’s Amy to any number of fake and flat rom-com leading lady characters, the kind of skinny, uncertain girly-women who are more based in male fantasy than in any sort of feminine reality.

Nor do I consider LeBron James’ Trainwreck version of himself as a sensitive Downton Abbey fan as a victory for feminism (or men for that matter). But I am encouraged by his Downtown Abbey watch party pal, Aaron, who also happens to be Amy’s leading man. Hader’s kindly sports doctor admits he is bothered by the fact that Amy drinks a lot and has slept with a lot of guys, but that doesn’t stop him from loving her and wanting a relationship with her.

When Aaron tries to advise her that the short, revealing dress she dons for his awards dinner is not quite appropriate, it’s because he knows that it’s a formal event and that she will feel uncomfortable in it. Amy immediately assumes he’s trying to reform her wardrobe – and thus her – but that isn’t what’s happening, And it turns out he’s right: She is uncomfortable in her chosen outfit, not because a man told her it was inappropriate but because it isn’t appropriate for the occasion.

I don’t think acceptance – and the feminist ideal of a romantic relationship – means that a man has to like and meekly go along with every trait or notion that a woman has. That’s not what healthy relationships are all about.

The ways Trainwreck, well, wrecks as a feminist piece:

The journalist stereotype: Trainwreck embraces at least one anti-feminist stereotype in its storytelling: The tired old trope of the female journalist who sleeps with the guy she’s assigned to write about, just like Amy does after she’s assigned to pen a feature on Aaron.

Besides Trainwreck, The Wall Street Journal’s Don Steinberg lists 10 movies (well, nine movies and one Netflix series) that use this anti-feminist plot point, from Absence of Malice to How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days to The Fly (say it ain’t so, Geena Davis). The sad part is, it isn’t even a complete list; I can think of two or three other films that feature female journalists sleeping with their male assignments just off the top of my head, from Bloodsport to Fifty Shades of Grey.

Of course, such behavior happens but is relatively rare in real life, and since movies are more likely to attribute such behavior to female reporters, it’s pretty demeaning, Betsy West, a former ABC news producer who produces documentaries and teaches journalism at Columbia University, tells the WSJ.

The Cheerleaders. In the movie’s grand finale, Amy decides to show Aaron how much he means to her by performing an elaborate, provocative dance with the Knicks cheerleaders. This follows their earlier arguments about the appropriateness of cheerleaders (Aaron defends the squad as hard workers who bring people together, while Amy says their existence is demeaning to women.)

I’m going to have to go with Amy on this one. While I don’t think grand romantic gestures in and of themselves are necessarily anti-feminist, I’m probably never going to jump on the cheerleaders-are-just-all-right bandwagon. Like beauty pageants, cheerleaders seem like an outdated practice designed to display women’s physical attributes for men; proponents have attempted to recast both as less exploitative, arguing pageants and cheerleaders are about athleticism instead of beauty and about community service rather than exploitation.

I say put the pom-poms down and back away.

The rom-com rules. Schumer’s script may alter, role-switch and mock the rules of the romantic comedy, but Trainwreck hardly makes the radical gesture of tearing down or tossing aside these rules.

One of my favorite jokes in the film comes when Amy in voiceover watches the obligatory we’re-so-in-love clip parade of her and Aaron kissing, cuddling and snuggling and tartly quips, “I hope this montage ends like Jonestown.”

But the truth is, the big breakup, the happy ending and, yes, that montage all represent strict adherence to rom-com formula. And rom-coms, like Disney princess movies, have a bad reputation for putting women on screen and failing utterly to empower them.

I’m a fan of happy endings – and of fellow Oklahoma native Hader –  so I can’t say I would have liked the movie as much if Trainwreck had broken with rom-com tradition, but as far as a feminist statement goes, it probably would have been more effective.

Quick hitters

– Congratulations to Reese Witherspoon. The American Cinematheque will honor Witherspoon with its annual award Oct. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, according to Variety.com. The annual gala is a major fundraiser for the American Cinematheque and honors mid-career actors who are making significant contributions to the film business. Matthew McConaughey was last year’s honoree.

“Reese Witherspoon’s career is a perfect example of an actress flourishing in today’s world. She achieved commercial success early in comedies like ‘Election,’ ‘Legally Blonde’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and then added major critical success to her resume with movies such as ‘Walk the Line,’ for which she received the Academy award for best actress,” said Rick Nicita, American Cinematheque chairman.

“She has refused to be limited to only certain types of roles and has continued to impress with her varied choices, ranging from smaller roles in dramas such as ‘Mud’ to a tour-de-force, Oscar-nominated performance last year in ‘Wild.’ She is an active and successful movie producer who is moving her career forward both behind and in front of the camera. The most appropriate role for Reese Witherspoon today is role model.”

– I highly recommend checking out Colbie Smulders’ new RollingStone.com interview that is mostly about her new indie film Unexpected but also touches on future projects, her past with How I Met Your Mother and her work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (she plays Agent Maria Hill).

“I do get the tough broads a lot,” she tells RollingStone.com. “It’s exciting to see more of them popping up. But I’m more interested in, ‘What is it that breaks you and how do you put yourself back together?’ than ‘I’m a strong woman, I can do anything.'”

Smulders is working on The Intervention, the tentatively titled directorial debut of actress-writer Clea Duvall, which co-stars Orange Is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne, Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat and Togetherness’ Melanie Lynskey.

– I also suggest checking out former talk-show host and actress Ricki Lake’s (Hair Spray) Q&A with the L.A. Times in which she discusses the latest phase in her career: producing documentaries that advocate for women’s health. Her 2008 documentary The Business of Being Born has recently been re-released digitally, and her new film The Mama Sherpas looks at the role of midwives in the U.S. birthing industry. She’s also made or is making docs about breastfeeding and hormonal birth control.

“So many women are in the dark on matters that are so important to their health. I don’t pretend to be an expert in all things pertaining to women’s health, but I’ve made it my duty to empower women with both the answers and questions they need. I am very proud of that,” she tells the L.A. Times.

-BAM

 

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×
explore: | | | | | | |