I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies. There are some I like, but on the whole I tend to find them boring. They have such a reliable formula that once you’ve seen one, there doesn’t seem to be much point in seeing any more.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find Trainwreck, starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader, utterly delightful. It follows the romantic comedy formula, but it also sends it up. It acknowledges that there are moments in this type of movie that make you roll your eyes and groan, but still goes all in on a ridiculous, over-the-top, show-stopping ending.
And for all of the sugar coating that goes with the genre, this movie touches on some issues that most rom-coms don’t.
That’s not to say I didn’t see problems with it – there are plenty. As usual, the protagonists are white. Amy Schumer (whose character’s name is also Amy) even says in voice over: “Welcome to the whitest couple in America.” And Amy wears heels during the entire movie, even when it doesn’t make sense. She’s wearing heels in a scene when she and her sister are packing up her father’s house, doing physical labor for hours. That’s just dangerous!
But if you can manage to get past the superficiality inherent in many mainstream films like this one, Amy’s character arc is actually anything but. Her father has multiple sclerosis and because her mother passed away years ago, Amy and her sister pay for his nursing room care.
That’s plenty of stress and grief for anyone, but Amy also struggles with the mantra her father instilled in her at a young age that “monogamy isn’t realistic,” and a demanding job at a magazine where she’s constantly reminded that her boss doesn’t care about her.
And she’s actually doing pretty well. Yeah, she’s sleeping with a lot of men, but that’s not exactly proof that she’s unhinged. And she smokes pot and drinks, but it doesn’t interfere with her writing career, where she’s thriving despite the toxic environment.
It’s in her personal relationships that you can see Amy is suffering. At the beginning of the movie, she’s dating a guy named Steven, played by John Cena. Amy is extremely callous when he tells her he has real feelings for her and is hurt that she sleeps with other men. She also mocks her sister for being married to a dorky guy and raising a nerdy stepson. At all turns, even with her father who she obviously adores, Amy keeps deep emotions at arms’ length, drowned in alcohol, and laughed away.
Compared to Aaron, Bill Hader’s character, Amy is a mess. Aaron is the subject of an article she’s assigned, and of course, the Katherine Heigl to Amy’s James Marsden. Aaron is a sports doctor and his BFF is LeBron James. He has a nice apartment and is just an all-around good person. Sure, he’s awkward and nerdy, but if you’re anything like me you put those attributes in the plus column.
Aaron really likes Amy and wants to have a relationship with her. And, after some hesitation, Amy agrees. She’s crazy about him, but tells her sister that “he’s too nice for me.” At one point she asks Aaron, “What’s wrong with you that you want to be with me?”
Amy really doesn’t believe she deserves someone like Aaron, even though he tells her he loves her and means it.
And because it is a rom-com, there’s a crisis where it looks like Amy and Aaron are over. Amy hits true rock bottom – she gets so drunk that she tries to hook up with a sixteen year old intern, only to accidentally punch him in the face and get caught by his mom. This is not long after the death of her father and a devastating fight with her sister. She loses her job and suddenly has to face all of the things she’s been putting aside.
And so Amy makes a change. She cleans her apartment and starts looking for new, better work. And she tells her sister something incredibly vulnerable, confessing, “I’m broken.”
At first I took this to mean that she felt bad about not wanting a family life like her sister, and my feminist hackles raised. But I think what she really means is that she’s afraid of love.
And yes, part of love is relationships and family and children, but really she has trouble being open with anyone. We don’t see her hang out with any friends outside of work, and before Aaron her main interactions were with an endless string of one-night stands. Her feeling of brokenness encompasses her insecurities, her grief, and her inability to be close with anyone.
But she still has Aaron. Earlier in the movie, LeBron James asked Amy what her intentions were with Aaron. You know, like bros do for their bros. He asks her, “Is he your Cleveland?”
And for Amy, Aaron is what Cleveland is for LeBron James: redemption and forgiveness and a reason to be better. But I didn’t take away from this movie that metaphorical Cleveland needs to be another person.
This movie isn’t about Amy being saved by Aaron. She used to sleep with lots of people, and that’s okay. She didn’t want a family, and that’s okay. She fell in love and might have changed her mind on those fronts, and all of that is fine. Aaron loved her before she decided to transform herself and still loves her after.
The only thing that changed is that Amy let herself be worthy of that love – she had to accept that she always had been. Aaron was part of the reason for that transformation, but he didn’t change her. She did.
I found Amy’s character arc really struck a nerve with me as I fumble my way through my twenties. I don’t really have anything in common with her character, but I – and I think a lot of women my age – identify with her feelings of unworthiness.
Since adolescence, we’re told that women can only be entirely good or entirely slutty, but that you have to be amazing in bed and also innocent and demure. Or that life doesn’t begin until marriage but you should be independent. And don’t even get me started about the way we’re bombarded with expectations for our appearances.
It’s impossible to be all the things we’re told we’re supposed to be. Everyone is always falling short of something, and that can lead to feelings of inadequacy and the brokenness that Amy expresses.
So I was touched by the surprising truthfulness at the end of Trainwreck. After the inevitable grand gesture to try and win him back, Amy tells Aaron, “I want to try with you,” and he answers, “I want to try too.” It seemed more real than any declarations of undying love or promises to always be together that come part and parcel with most rom-coms.
Because life happens, and people change, and things come up. Everyone has flaws and cute quirks, but most also have serious, real-life issues. It’s impossible to change everything about yourself overnight. It’s impossible to be perfect, or want all the things you’re supposed to want. All we can do is try, and the promise to try together is what makes me rate Trainwreck among my favorite romantic movies.
Laura Jewell writes for Girls in Capes and has a BA in Theatre from Miami University. She currently lives in Chicago and enjoys many fandoms, including her favorites Harry Potter and Doctor Who. Her favorite weekend pastime is curling up with a book and her fifteen-pound orange cat, Orange Cat.