2 hours, 5 minutes
There are times I feel out of touch with the mainstream of film criticism. More so lately than usual. Most of the time when I disagree with the big-name critics, it’s because I tend to be more populist in my opinions. I liked “Ant-Man,” as did most theater-goers, even if the reviews were lukewarm.
This week I’m out of step, however, for a different reason. I, somehow, am not under the same bewitching spell of Amy Schumer that ever other critic in America seems to be. Maybe it’s because I don’t watch much TV. I’ve seen little bits of this raunchy comedienne’s stuff here and there, and I’ll agree it’s sharply written and pretty funny, but she’s portrayed as the second coming of Gloria Steinem when it comes to her style of subversive feminist comedy.
If that’s how Schumer wants to be perceived, she did herself no favors with her big screen debut in “Trainwreck,” a confused mess of a movie that seems to think it’s being edgy but is, in fact, so conventional and even backwards in its attitudes that it might have been made 60 years ago.
In one sense, I think I see what Schumer and director Judd Apatow were going for. They flip the traditional RomCom script making the lead character, also named Amy, a pig while Bill Hader’s Aaron is sweet and dependable. The problem is, however, that this isn’t just like color-blind casting in Shakespeare or “wouldn’t it be cool is the next Indiana Jones were a woman.”
There is an old, and mostly disappeared, tradition of the “loose woman,” in which any woman with the temerity to act like a man, i.e., remain unmarried, have a career, or even, heaven forbid, show their face in a bar, is considered a floozy, a whore, or an all around horrible person. Thankfully, we’ve had a whole generation or more of portrayals of women in pop culture that discount this old stereotype, but Amy Schumer has brought it back with a vengeance by pouring out all of her own self-loathing on screen.
Amy, the character, is a terrible person and her signature character flaws are uncomfortably in sync with those old chauvinist criticisms. Perhaps Schumer and Apatow feel that women’s rights have come so far that we’ve gone completely around the curve into post-feminism. Whatever the excuse, for a performer who wears the mantle of feminist hero, Schumer’s film feels like a betrayal.
The movie does follow a fairly traditional path, plotwise. Amy thinks she doesn’t need a relationship, then she finds a great guy. She struggles against the idea of settling down, and in the end discovers that true love is where it’s at.
In typical Judd Apatow fashion, the movie is populated by a host of quirky and generally funny people, most of whom are very entertaining in their small roles. Most impressive is Tilda Swinton, once again almost unrecognizable as Amy’s boss at the alpha-male-centric “Maxim”-esque magazine where she works. Swinton is funny all the way through, although once again playing to disturbing stereotype, this one that the only way a woman can become an executive is by being worse than the men.
I had high hopes for this movie. It looked funny, was getting great reviews, and I thought it might even turn me from a casual admirer of Schumer, to a true fan. The character is, however, so unlikeable, so destructive, that I couldn’t even laugh at her. Bill Hader’s Aaron, who is very funny, is played as such a great guy that it’s impossible to understand why he would ever give Amy the time of day.
Fundamentally, if you can’t root for the couple in a romantic comedy, then why are you watching it?
2 hours, 4 minutes
The other movie I watched this weekend was Jake Gyllenhall’s transformative performance as boxer Billy Hope in Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw.” This is a movie that is getting lukewarm reviews at best, but I was actually very impressed.
Fuqua, better known for shoot-’em ups, spins a tough family drama about a simple man, Hope, a kid from the streets brought up through the foster-care system to eventually become the light-heavyweight boxing champion of the world. The movie begins with Hope on top, having successfully defended his title once again. His wife, Maurine, played by Rachel McAdams, doing the most acting I’ve seen her do in a while, wants him to retire — to be able to take advantage of all they have before he becomes too punch-drunk to enjoy it. Billy seems to be leaning her way, but when a terrible tragedy strikes, our hero loses everything and has to start back at the bottom in order to be able to protect and raise his adolescent daughter.
Gyllenhall’s transformation into the muscled, taciturn brute force that is Billy Hope is impressive, especially considering his last major role was that of the gaunt, motor-mouthed huckster in “Nightcrawler.” It’s a wonder how celebrities are able to alter their appearance at will, but you have to think it’s not always a good idea. After all, Dennis Quaid famously damaged his health by losing all that weight to play Doc Holliday in “Wyatt Earp.” I hope Gyllenhall’s mindful of the risks he’s taking for his art.
“Southpaw” is not revelatory as a movie — it’s pretty straightforward and not particularly creative. But it is, as are nearly all of Fuqua’s films, solid and entertaining.
It also has a strange distinction, one I wouldn’t have guessed in a million years. “Southpaw” has the most emotionally honest and harrowing death scene I’ve seen since “Saving Private Ryan.” I don’t know if that’s enough to send you rushing to the theater, but it’s certainly good company to be in.
“Trainwreck” is rated R for crude sexual content, nudity, and pervasive language.
“Southpaw” is rated R for violence and language.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.