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Judd-ging Amy: The Slut-Shaming, Heteronormative Morality of ‘Trainwreck’

Judd-ging Amy: The Slut-Shaming, Heteronormative Morality of 'Trainwreck'

Let’s make this very clear: I love Amy Schumer, and want nothing more than for her to succeed. I know her stand up special “Mostly Sex Stuff” by heart, have seen every episode of her TV series and have spent countless hours on YouTube watching pretty much anything with her name in the title. Over the years, I have introduced her to people with an embarrassing level of enthusiasm whenever someone somehow still hadn’t heard of her, immediately queuing up the five YouTube videos I knew would bring them into the light. 

For me, Amy Schumer has felt like this icon for people who — for whatever reason — have not found themselves representing societal norms by their thirties. And more over, someone who can call bullshit on the people who think they have. There’s this one amazing bit in “Mostly Sex Stuff” where Schumer describes going to a wedding shower for a largely estranged friend who has moved to Connecticut and got a whole new group of “married” friends. And it’s fucking amazing, even just when it’s transcribed: 

So I’m at this party, and I’m mainlining Chardonnay, trying to remember fun. Then, one of the girls was like, ”Let’s play a game!“ and I’m like, “Suicide pact? Okay! I’ll go first! This party’s the worst.” And she goes, “No, let’s all go around and admit something!” and I’m like, “Oh, no.”

So these girls are all going around, and the shit they’re admitting is so boring. Like this one girl was like, “Once, I forgot to let the dog out all day!” and they were all like, “Noooooooo!!!!” Then the girl who goes right before me, Bridgette, who is the worst human being I’ve ever met, she spoke the softest, like you had to lean in and squint and read her lips. Bridgette talked like an angel was sleeping on her tongue. So anyway, she was like, “Alright you guys, it’s my turn, bring it in” and I’m like, “We’re in, we have to be, because you talk like Fievel. Use your diaphragm, Bridg.” So she’s like, “I’ll admit this. Sometimes, after Richard falls asleep, I get up and eat ice cream.”

I just wanted to find one other pair of eyes being like, “What a dumb cunt” right? But nothing, no one, they’re all looking at her like, “Bridgette, you should be asleep! It’s night, carbs? C’mon!” So then it’s my turn, and I don’t look at my friend Katie, but I can feel her glaring at me, as if to say, “Don’t be yourself right now, bitch! This is my new life!” 

So I’m like, “First of all, Bridgette, thank you for being so brave. I’ll admit this, it’s kind of like your ice cream thing. This one time, I let a cab driver… finger me.” And my friend Katie is like, “THAT’S NOT HOW YOU PLAY, AMY!!” and I’m like, “Really? Because I feel like I won.”

The feeling I have whenever I hear that bit is basically what I expected to feel coming out of “Trainwreck,” the film Schumer wrote and stars in that opened to mainly rave reviews and big box office this past weekend — a little empowered, a little less alone, and a lot in awe of a voice of such spot-on comedic brilliance commenting so precisely on what I seem to feel in too many situations. And that was pretty much the same expectation of the seven other people I saw it with last Thursday night. 

All of us more or less single and in our late twenties and early thirties, we treated the screening like I imagine various demographics might approach “Star Wars” or “The Dark Knight.”  We bought tickets weeks in advance and planned a whole night around it. This was our event film, after all. And instead of bring lightsabers or dressing up like The Joker, we would theme it like a story from Schumer’s standup. Sneak in cheap white wine, try and out-do one another with dirty jokes during the previews, and then go out to a divey gay bar afterwards with the intention of waking up somewhere weird. An exaggerated version of ourselves, for the most part. But we were assuming “Trainwreck” would largely involve an exaggerated version of Schumer’s slutty, boozey public persona we had all fallen in love with. And we were more than willing to let the film bring out our own versions of that — with pride.

But instead…

“Um, I feel like Judd Apatow just seriously slut-shamed us and brought Amy Schumer along for the ride,” my friend said as we walked out of the theater, furious. “What the fuck was that movie trying to say!?” My thoughts pretty much exactly. 

“Trainwreck” is an astonishingly judgemental movie, and not in the fun way you’d think it would be. It seems to throw the very people Schumer has been vouching for all these years under the bus with an essential moral that excess behavior will only lead to unhappiness and that we best assimilate into societal norms even if it doesn’t feel natural.  Why would Amy Schumer — our Amy Schumer — want to express such a notion?

Schumer’s recent rise to a whole new level of fame has personally been met almost exclusively with joy. It felt like someone was finally getting the recognition and fame they deserved — and that it was somehow happening on her own terms, with seemingly limited compromise. Look at third season of “Inside Amy Schumer.” Airing in the midst of said fame-rise, it upped the ante in pretty much every respect and maintained — even strengthened — Schumer’s voice. I presumed “Trainwreck” would push that even further, and my anticipation and expectations were admittedly both epic as a result. But after seeing a second time alone the next night, I am pretty confident in my own disdain for its ethics — even though I would still like to believe Amy Schumer herself doesn’t share them.

Basically, “Trainwreck” feels like two different movies — one Schumer’s and one director Judd Apatow’s — competing against one another. The Schumer part is by far the better movie. Making up most of the first half, it’s essentially a cinematic version of Schumer’s stand up or TV series. A journalist at a men’s magazine (where Tilda Swinton — absolutely the best thing about the movie — plays her boss), Schumer’s character often has three too many, wakes up in strange places and is at odds with the people in her life that seem to actually have it together. This makes for many hysterical, fully realized scenes, including one that adapts the aforementioned wedding shower bit from Schumer’s standup. Except there’s a few differences. For one, it’s now a baby shower and instead of letting a cab driver finger her, Amy’s “secret” is that she got a condom got stuck to her cervix and she had to use her finger to fish it out. Fair enough. But the other, much more problematic difference is that it seems Amy doesn’t quite feel like she’s won the game this time. She even feels the need to call up the person whose baby shower it was and apologize.

I’m not so delusional that I would expect Universal to pony up money for a summer movie where a lead character carries on in the typical Schumer spirit for two hours without consequence or conflict. I already knew from the trailer that this was very much going to be a rom com between Schumer and Bill Hader’s sports doctor character. But it’s that part of the movie — the one with Judd Apatow written all over it — that makes “Trainwreck” so questionable in its intent (and makes up most of its second half). 

Awkwardly dramatic and morally conservative even by Apatow’s regular standards, this half finds Amy trying to navigate a relationship with Hader’s Aaron amidst family drama involving her dying father Gordon (Colin Quinn) and pregnant, married sister Kim (Brie Larson). Basically, the whole film’s set up is a flashback involving alcoholic, promiscuous Gordon telling young Amy and Kim that he and their mother are getting divorced because “monogamy isn’t realistic.” Cut to present-day, with Amy now adopting her father’s behavior and Kim doing the opposite with a husband and kids. When Bill Hader’s Aaron rolls around, Amy has a major opportunity to follow her sister’s lead with a stable relationship — but she’s worried she’s gonna screw it up. When she confesses this to her sister, Kim simply tells Amy she is “just finally doing what everyone else does.”

By the film’s third act, Amy has predictably screwed up her relationships with both Kim and Aaron. With Kim it’s via an argument after their father’s funeral where Amy suggests Kim never even liked their father (which is obviously underlined with Amy’s resentment toward Kim’s judgement of her own lifestyle). With Aaron, it comes when he brings Amy to a luncheon where he’s receiving a prestigious award. Out of her element (and in a dress that Aaron subtly and questionably criticizes for being inappropriate even though it’s certainly not by my standards), Amy drinks too much and then has to leave the table during Aaron’s speech to take (a genuinely important) work call. When Aaron eventually finds her smoking pot outside the luncheon, he begins to finally call her out on her behavior, admitting that he is indeed bothered by how many men she’s slept with despite suggesting otherwise previously.

In a sense, it’s a very similar plot trajectory to “Bridesmaids,” which just so happens to also be a Judd Apatow-affiliated summer studio movie that worked as a mainstream breakout for the female comedienne who both co-wrote and starred in it (Kristen Wiig). Except Apatow didn’t co-write or direct “Bridesmaids,” and the difference shows. Wiig’s character Annie, like Schumer’s Amy, is a thirtysomething mess whose behavior — largely enabled by Rose Byrne’s secretly-jealous-of-her Helen — sabotages her relationships with Maya Rudolph’s best friend Lillian and Chris O’Dowd’s love interest Nathan.  In the end, she ends up winning them both back. This is more or less the same conclusion that meets “Trainwreck,” but the journeys Amy and Annie respectively take to get there are very different.

In “Bridesmaids,” Lillian and Nathan end up accepting Annie for who she was all along. It was Annie that couldn’t accept herself, and when she finally does — in part through a pep-talk from Melissa McCarthy’s Megan — she apologizes and her relationships are mended. They don’t force her to change. Annie had to do that herself.

But in “Trainwreck,” Amy’s change comes through what she thinks Kim and Aaron — and society — expect from her.  Amy eventually apologizes to Kim by telling her maybe she was just jealous of her, and Kim tells her maybe it’s time to change.  This leads into a cringe-worthy montage of Amy throwing out all the booze in her apartment, just before making a grand gesture to win back Aaron by surprising him at Madison Square Garden. Dressed like a hyper-feminized cheerleader and performing a dance to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girls” with the Knicks City girls, she finally tells him she loves him, and they kiss — which is shown, yes, on the jumbotron. Read that last sentence again, will you?

So let’s go back to my friend’s question: “What the fuck was that movie trying to say!?” It seems to me the answer is basically: Find a way to be like everyone else, even if it’s not you. Amy has some genuine problems, but that’s who she is. Her relationship with her father gave her major issues with men/sex/booze/commitment, which are only heightened by the fact that it’s hard out there for a single thirtysomething woman in New York. Apparently the solution to all that is just finding the right person to kiss on a fucking jumbotron and then assimilate into a heteronormative lifestyle with? Who needs self-acceptance or self-growth or functional independence when there’s a rich doctor to sweep you off your feet?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being in a stable relationship, or wanting one. But the problem with “Trainwreck” is its suggestion that it’s the only fucking way. “Bridesmaids” may have not been especially transgressive in its primarily happily-ever-after conclusion, but it accepted its characters for who they were. Take McCarthy’s Megan, perhaps the happiest character in the film. She’s raunchy, single, slutty and boozey — but she doesn’t give a shit, and we’re not expected to either. 

By ultimately offering these morals, “Trainwreck” is really passing strong judgement on Amy Schumer herself — or at least, the Amy Schumer we know and love from the stand up specials and YouTube clips and the TV series. And the Amy Schumer we saw in the half of “Trainwreck” that actually felt like a movie she wrote. We’re posited as audience members to shame Amy, and for many of us — that ended up feeling a whole lot like shaming ourselves. 

This Article is related to: Reviews