She’s no fan of monogamy, she is baffled when her boyfriend talks about marriage and she’s all about the one-night stand.
You’d think she’d be the heroine in a Hollywood movie. Instead, she’s…well, a “Trainwreck.”
(And “Trainweck” is not some new slang for “super cool,” in case you’re wondering.)
Director Judd Apatow’s latest movie follows the formula he’s become known for: excessive raunch paired with family values. “Trainwreck” begins with a dad telling his two young daughters that monogamy’s unrealistic, asking them if they’d want to commit to playing with just one doll for the rest of their lives.
Then he explains that that’s why their mom and dad are getting divorced.
The sexual revolution and feminism
Twenty-three years later, Amy (played by Amy Schumer) is a loyal daddy’s girl, playing the field aggressively. She, also like her dad, uses drugs (one memorable scene involves her smoking weed out the window of a hotel during a professional luncheon) and drinks copiously.
But instead of coming off as a strong, sexually “liberated” woman who’s being true to herself, Amy only appears deeply troubled.
The more men she touches, the more closed off she becomes: when she does sleep with a man she feels connection to, she requires him, post-sex, to place a pillow between them and stay completely on his side, just because she can’t bear a non-sexual touch. At the funeral of their dad, her sister Kim snaps at Amy in some variation of “Stop pushing me away!”
Because that’s what Amy does, and it’s never more poignant than at the funeral of their dad. If there is one person Amy loves, it’s her dad—a man she herself describes in her eulogy as an “a–hole.”
Her father’s daughter
Pairing a romantic comedy storyline with a daughter’s struggle to cope with her father’s multiple sclerosis, nursing home experience and eventual death may seem like a surprising script move.
But it’s an inspired one—“Trainwreck” is the first Hollywood film I can recall that truly considers what it’s like to grow up as a child of the sexual revolution, what it’s like when your own parents have rejected the ideal of lifelong, monogamous marriage.
Amy and Kim have responded in very different ways to their parents’ choices. Kim takes their mom’s side, while Amy is loyal to their dad. Kim has married and is devoted to her stepson and husband. Amy doesn’t seem to give marriage a second thought.
“Trainwreck” suggests that the children of the sexual revolution face a certain tension: that it’s hard to accept and cope with that the parents you love may have made choices you cannot defend or repeat.
Yet, after her dad’s death, Amy slowly begins to show signs of change.
Was her prior behavior something she had chosen, or was it something she adopted because she loved her dad, much the way a small child will imitate her parents? Did she truly hate monogamy—or did she feel that to embrace it would be to betray the dad she loved, the dad she defended, the dad she wholeheartedly supported, warts and all?
These are the questions raised by “Trainwreck,” which, thankfully, doesn’t pretend it can unravel Amy’s motivations or posit a simple “moral of the story.” Nor does it seem realistic that Amy had no attraction to a non-monogamous lifestyle.
But “Trainwreck” suggests that the children of the sexual revolution face a certain tension: that it’s hard to accept and cope with that the parents you love may have made choices you cannot defend or repeat.
In some ways, Amy is almost the anti-teenager, the woman trying so desperately to keep her dad on a pedestal that she’s willing to decide her whole values system according to what system keeps her dad up high and revered.
Promiscuity and Intimacy
But as we see, Amy’s paying a high price for that. Her relationship with sports doctor Aaron Conners (played by Bill Hader) is her uneasy foray into monogamy. It’s a genuine struggle for her: she is suspicious when he calls her after they sleep together, and she is confused by Conners’s willingness to help her with her dad.
Yet she keeps dating him, keeps not sleeping around—to the extent that Conners is shocked when Amy’s brother-in-law references Amy’s past sexual history, a topic she’d been loud and proud about in the past.
Her relationship with Conners isn’t the only area where Amy struggles to handle intimacy. Amy may not be using a pillow as a physical barrier between herself and her brother-in-law and nephew, but she’s showing a similarly cold attitude. She has buddies, but no friends she has serious conversations with.
Amy’s lack of intimate relationships becomes a topic during a heated fight she has with Conners. He tells her that she and her magazine friends are content to judge people from afar.
In a world where snarky sites like “Gawker” thrive and where millions watch reality shows like the Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise, perhaps mainly to judge, Conners’s statement becomes especially bold: are we, thanks to our sexual promiscuity and the perhaps necessarily concurrent disdain for intimacy, becoming increasingly distant from each other?
Do we judge and snark and mock because we’re not close enough to anyone anymore to remember people’s humanity?
In her lowest moment, Amy tries to sleep with a man she doesn’t even like—someone she’s only treated with disdain before.
It’s a painful scene to watch, to see Amy physically connect with someone she cannot mentally connect with at all. The gulf between mind and body, between spirit and flesh, seems enough to tear anyone apart, to make clear the usefulness of pot and alcohol as numbing buddies—and to suggest that Amy may shy away from intimacy from people because she’s so accustomed to sexual intimacy including some kind of painful disconnect.
Of course, because this is a romantic comedy, the movie doesn’t end with Amy’s lowest moment, but with her accepting a family group hug (and the intimacy that comes with that), and reuniting with Conners after their huge fight.
But “Trainwreck” defies the usual romantic comedy formula by tackling head-on the question about whether monogamy and happily ever after are even still relevant in our current culture, where so often we seem to value passion above commitment, where “Sex and the City” may seem more relevant than “You’ve Got Mail” or “Sleepless in Seattle.”
“Trainwreck” doesn’t just give Amy a happy ending; it also vehemently argues that monogamous, committed love is still the happy ending we all should want—because the alternative necessitates avoiding intimacy and genuine love.