Trainwreck [2015]

I recently almost watched Hot Pursuit [2015], a “screwball” comedy with the great innovation of swapping the usual mismatched men with mismatched women. I respected its ambition to invert the gender norms. There is nothing inherently masculine about an oddball couple in a comedy chase film, though like most theoretically neutral genres I can’t think of another all-female example compared to an easy host of male-centric films. It suffered from the same basic problem as most male-centric versions of the story in recent years, that the gags were somehow tired and limp, and the comedic timing was off, with every joke feeling telegraphed. It wasn’t zany enough, or alternatively, not straight-faced enough, occupying a useless middle ground. Still better than the last Adam Sandler film I saw, so could be worse.

I had been intrigued to see what difference the gender made on a familiar story trope, and the answer was a little more body humour and miscellaneous changes in the details of the story elements. In purely gendering terms I don’t think it went quite far enough, because aside from the two leads, the rest of the cast remained resolutely male. In some senses, this reinforces a masculine concept, as it is still men driving the story in effect.

I walked into Trainwreck with much the same basic psychology, of being interested in the differences created by taking a familiar rom-com structure and switching the gender perspective. The usual Romantic Comedy shot from a male perspective is in some senses about proving the inherent worth of the suitor, while simultaneously removing some dark and unsuitable presence from the character’s life, the obstacle to romance. The prototype for this may well be Say Anything [1989], where Lloyd Dobler [John Cusack] desires Diane Court [Ione Skye], but must overcome the disapproval of her father, who is conveniently eliminated by external forces. The “worth” of the suitor sometimes appears questionable, but their faults are usually superficial and outweighed if not eliminated by the quest they undertake to get the girl. For example, in Happy Gilmore [1996], Happy [Adam Sandler] must win the championship to defeat “Shooter” McGavin [Christopher McDonald] and hence win the money for his Grandmother’s house and Virginia Vent [Julie Bowen] – his temper and his short game are mostly fixed by the end, so he can get the girl. The question I arrived at the cinema with was how Trainwreck would invert this basic construction, making the woman in the equation into the inadequate partner, rather than the prize, and hence give the middle finger to the patriarchy.

What struck me during the film was that essentially nothing had changed, that the film would work almost perfectly if the genders were simply re-swapped. As the film has percolated through my subconscious I’ve actually come to think I was wrong in my starting point – this comedy leaves in tact the basic genre tropes, it’s just shifted the perspective slightly. And then as I started to write this and think about the basic premise of my viewing intentions, I realised that the romantic comedy is already somewhat even-handed. Examples like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days [2003] and The Proposal [2009] have already explored this inversion, if it even is that. So, reluctantly, we need to let go of any idea that this is a female perspective on a male genre in the way that Hot Pursuit or The Heat [2013] definitively are. This is just another example of an existing genre structure, with already-explored variations and tropes. We can perhaps think of this in more general terms, as a focus for discussing where the gender boundaries possibly lie – even that seems a little precarious.

Before going on, I need to make a little admission, that I’m not a fan of this genre, so I’ve really only accumulated the incidental exposure one does when watching a host of films over decades. I don’t have in my head the large store of examples to draw on that inform my discussions of espionage, detectives and other “boy” genres.

The big selling point of the film is where it locates its dramatic fulcrum, the “trainwreck” of a central character. Most romance films hit a point where it appears that the relationship will break down, and this is most often a function of the drama’s context. For example, in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, the article giving the film its title prompts the failure as part of the premise. In Bend it like Beckham [2002] the parallel drama of the father’s disapproval of sport participation provides the apparent moment of break-down. In Trainwreck there is no external force, merely the assumption or expectation on Amy’s part that she is constitutionally incapable of deep attachment. There are only a handful of films I can think of making this same ploy. Hitch [2006] has its lead unwilling to believe in genuine emotion, forming a career from creating the perfect simulacrum – his own relationship forces him to acknowledge a life beyond the superficial in parallel with Albert’s [Kevin James] courtship proceeding perfectly despite deviation from the play-book. Something’s Gotta Give [2003] is perhaps the closest male-centric film, where Harry Sanborn [2003] essentially realises there’s more to life than mindless womanising and allows himself to fall for Erica Barry [Diane Keaton], who eventually makes herself available to him. And then, there is virtually the entire romantic oeuvre of Woody Allen, who is almost always his own worst enemy.

What we’re left with is in effect “just another romantic comedy”. It really doesn’t do anything innovative or original, it doesn’t meaningfully challenge any part of the status quo, repeating the basically false optimism of the genre generally. I think it would have been infinitely more interesting if it had resisted the obvious happy ending, and let the film end as its premise suggested, in a trainwreck, with nobody walking away whole or happy. Even then, it would be retreading ground from Annie Hall [1977] and Chasing Amy [1997] – both better films in their way, covering the same kind of ground.

I gave this 7/10 on IMDB, and toyed with an 8. At the end of the day, whatever preconceptions or politics I brought to the table, this movie was extremely funny. I laughed pretty much continually, and found all of the characters and situations charming and interesting while I was watching them.

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2 Responses to Trainwreck [2015]

  1. Pingback: Snapshots of 2015’s Films & Television | My One Contribution To The Internet

  2. Pingback: Bad Moms [2016] | My One Contribution To The Internet

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