“I feel like the queen,’’ Amy Schumer proclaimed as two teacups of coffee come shuffling into the room. She’s perched on her chair, barefoot, in a pinstriped minidress shrouded of its brevity by a hotel hand towel draped across her lap.
In the penthouse of the Liberty Hotel in Boston, Schumer and her co-star, Mike Birbiglia, sat through a parade of press interviews for Trainwreck in early June. The comedians had a show the night before at The Wilbur as part of a seven-date charity tour for the film to support the Boston Health Care For The Homeless Program.
It’s beguiling to place the composed, calculated, and safe-guarded Schumer in her character’s shaky shoes in her first film, due in theaters Friday. The romantic comedy, written by Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, tells the story of a city-dwelling professional who can’t break her habit of binge drunk, one-night stands. The plot has been touted as being partially autobiographical.
“I don’t really know what percentage, I just make up the numbers arbitrarily,’’ she said. “I can make some number up, but there’s a lot of me, and a lot that’s not true. Unfortunately I don’t get laid half as much as this beautiful girl, but I wrote it two years ago. It was a lot of what was going on with me at the time.’’
There’s a fair amount of debauchery fueled by casual alcoholism in Trainwreck, not limited to sex with strangers and a steady stream of public embarrassments. Schumer’s self-sabotaging character is at the center of the storm, but she finds herself caught off guard when she meets a monogamy-chasing sports doctor who swiftly decides, “I think we really like each other, and we should start dating.’’
While Schumer’s guesstimate of IRL vs. fiction is ultimately up to the imagination, the character she plays in Trainwreck is not far off from the narrative she weaves in her stand-up. Her smart, subversive humor carried her hugely popular series, Inside Amy Schumer,into its fourth season, and it exposed her to Apatow, who hand-plucked her for a script based on her life after hearing her on Howard Stern in 2011.
This could also be the same character that has Schumer apologizing since earlier this month when Guardian columnist Monica Heisey wrote, in an otherwise positive story, that the comic had a “shockingly large blind spot around race.’’
Her tragically naïve, sorry-not-sorry response fueled an AmySchumer/racedebate while unearthing other examples of racism in her comedy. She follow-uped with a somewhat better apology, writing, “I played a dumb white girl character on stage. Once I realized I had more eyes and ears on me and had an influence, I stopped telling jokes like that on stage.’’
Weeks before Heisey’s story and the subsequent fallout, Schumer, still a media darling that day at the Liberty, was already waiting for “the other shoe to drop.’’
“It is overwhelming — you see how media works,’’ she said. “You build someone up, and then you tear them down. I feel like I’ve had this rise, and I’ve been getting so much love — but with the way I’m wired, I’m just waiting for the other side.’’
Trainwreck Amy isn’t a racist — or at least she doesn’t make off-color jokes like, “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual,’’ that would make you think she is. But her booze-soaked bad decisions and overall altruism carry the film’s plot, borrowing successfulbits from Schumer’s stand-up throughout. Is the “girl who time to time says the dumbest thing possible’’— and riffs on black-outs and bad dates — the same caucasian female with questionable judgement we’re aggressively being sold in Trainwreck? Or is she of a more thoughtful kind?
I’d like to think it’s the latter.
There’s something unfortunate for Schumer in the timing of this debacle, with the excessive promotion ahead of Trainwreck’s debut that’s woven into every form of Millennial consumption from Tinder to Spotify to TheReal Housewives. Schumer’s brazen ownership of the hard-partying, casual sex-positive archetype makes her an ideal commentator — the kind that makes viral award show speeches that declare, “I’m 160 pounds, and I can catch a dick whenever I want.’’
After all, it was Schumer’s stories of dating and family life that put Trainwreck’s script into motion. Apatow worked closely with Schumer, scrapping an initial unknown story for the one that went to print.
“I said to her when we started this: ‘Hey, what’s going on? Why don’t you have a boyfriend right now? What do you think goes wrong when you have a breakup? What’s the dynamic that happens when it falls apart?’’’ Apatow said. “And that’s how she started to structure the story, because it’s really about the obstacles that you put in your own way.’’
Schumer’s ability to play to her vulnerability is the other half of Trainwreck. A father diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a tense relationship with her betrothed sister, and a quickly serious and tumultuous romance add complexities that push Schumer’s character to a point fans are less accustomed to seeing.
“They were emotionally exhausting to film,’’ she admitted, “but then I’d go and do a set that night just to shake it off.’’
Complicated family dynamics drive Trainwreck into a place more along the lines of Apatow’s 2012 film, This Is 40. Stellar performances by Colin Quinn, Brie Larsen, and Birbiglia as Schumer’s family are a nice counterbalance for a movie with six, unnamed, one-night stands on the bill. Birbiglia, who plays Larsen’s dutiful but dull husband, claimed that one solemn scene featuring a monologue by Schumer left the cast “crying or choked up in some way.’’
Saturday Night Live alumn Bill Hader plays a solid romantic counterpart to Schumer. It’s an unlikely choice to some, but Stefon’s super sweet courtship is a game-changer. Prepare to leave the theater with a crush.
“I always like to make movies where it provides the thing you hope it will provide, but it goes deeper than you’d expect,’’ said Apatow. “The titles are almost a misdirect that it won’t be that deep. So like, with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you don’t expect much, but then it’s a little more thoughtful, and you’re happy about that.’’
Schumer wanted to assure that the leading lady wasn’t degrading or reductive, could still be seen as a comical, but complicated, “trainwreck.’’
“Like I think Samantha on Sex and the City was like, mentally ill,’’ Schumer said. “If one of my friends was behaving that way, I’d take her to the hospital. But I just think women should be allowed to be sexual beings. You hear that, and you think, ‘Well, of course.’ But it’s not really, like, ‘Of course.’ People are so quick to be like, ‘She’s a slut or whatever.’’’
Schumer’s talks a lot of game, but she shrugs off her own discretions as things of the past. “I had a good run sophomore year of college where I just really got the numbers up,’’ she said, “And then you’re like, ‘Oh, this is not good.’’’
Trainwreck opens in theaters this Friday and has been predicted to make a cool $115 million. The promotions following film’s release may taper off, but Schumer’s clickbait catnip nature appears to be long-lasting, and a little controversy along the way hasn’t hurt. Box office success would only cement her staying power as the latest breath of fresh air in Hollywood.
“I feel like I was so careful with this girl to tell her story,’’ she said. “You can look at her and be like, ‘Oh, she’s a drunk slut, I get it,’ but let’s look at why are these people the way they are, and what are the layers of them? I hope people are less likely to label someone and throw them away.’’
Who plays who in Trainwreck
Image credits: Peter Yang for Comedy Central; Mary Cybulski for Universal Pictures