It would be silly of me to ask, “Hey, have you heard of Amy Schumer?” Of course you have. She’s the 34-year-old comedian who sprang onto the scene in 2013 amid a spray of daisies and vagina jokes with her original Comedy Central series, Inside Amy Schumer. She’s irreverent, controversial and convicted. Her first movie, Trainwreck, opened this weekend to nearly universal critical acclaim.
Born in New York’s Upper East Side with Senator Chuck Schumer as her second cousin, Amy Schumer grew up as a curly-haired heiress to an imported Italian baby furniture company. But just as tween Amy became a teenager, it all went south. Her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a debilitating and degenerative immune disease. The baby furniture company went under and her parents divorced. Those early experiences could be where her off-kilter sense of humor comes from, as she told Time magazine in 2013: “We had a really dark couple of years in our house and we would just laugh about it… the most awful stuff makes me laugh, and I think it’s probably because of that.”
Schumer’s comedy is appealing because she makes dark situations funny and she’s a pretty-faced potty mouth. While she has them hooked, she plays with audiences’ expectations, shining a light so bright on taboo subjects and situations, it’s impossible not to recognize the absurdity.
Inside Amy Schumer, now in its third season on Comedy Central, includes Schumer’s stand-up, scripted skits and woman-on-the-street interviews. Some of the best moments come in her bar-room interviews with non-celebrities: her comedian friends and co-stars, a stripper, a sexual fetishist, a flight attendant, among others. She asks straightforward questions, drawing fascinating answers (with commentary, of course) from real people, which you don’t hear from or see much on TV.
Much of Schumer’s comedy is autobiographical. She talks about bad dates and bad sex she’s had, what it’s like to have catty girlfriends and having to face the pressure to be physically and sexually “perfect.” Several of the skits from her show’s boldly-feminist third season have gone viral this year, including one about the competing pressures to wear a lot of makeup and to go natural. In another episode, she learned from elder stateswomen Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus what it means to have your “last f**kable day” as a female celebrity. In a similar skit, 12 male celebrities; including Jeff Goldblum, Paul Giamatti, Dennis Quaid and Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser; decide, 12 Angry Men-style, whether she is hot enough to be on television. Her gutsy comedy and refusal to be limited by critics has caused controversy, particularly around issues of race in her comedy.
Trainwreck, a film Schumer wrote and stars in, is about a young magazine writer who loves to have sex with disposable, marble-bodied guys, doesn’t know how to act around kids and is generally not ready for a serious relationship. Basically, True Life: I’m Amy Schumer — complete with an MS-stricken dad and a hulky boyfriend (Schumer once dated WWE wrestler Dolph Ziggler, played in the film by John Cena).
While on assignment for the men’s magazine where she is gunning for an executive editor job, she meets Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a sweet and down-to-earth sports doctor. They spend time together, for the article, and magically hit it off. When it comes time to kick him out of her bed under her strict “no sleepovers” rule, she can’t. The next day, he calls and asks her out on a second date, and the seal is broken.
Trainwreck is produced by Judd Apatow and has all the trappings of predecessors like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. This includes an immature single guy who meets an improbable, too-perfect-to-be-real, gal. They’re not even close to being on the same page, but somehow their undeniable connection and one party’s penchant for romance dissolve all their barriers and #lovewins.
The difference in Trainwreck? Amy Schumer’s comedic sense is all over it.
The damaged, not-ready-for-a-relationship one is a woman, not a man. She drinks too much, parties too hard. The “walk of shame” is part of her morning routine. But she’s also unequivocally confident and driven — a complex woman with strengths and flaws. Many of the jokes feel plucked straight from the show, including the punch line of the opening scene where, during a one night stand, she fails to mask her disgust at the unappealing appearance of her date’s private sector. In true Schumer style, it’s raunchy and utterly delightful.
Although there are many such laugh-out-loud funny moments throughout the film’s first half, once the Judd Apatow machine starts grinding its gears, it grinds the Schumer right out of the Amy. Schumer was a thespian before she was a comedian, and she does a fine job, but it’s jarring to see the real-talk funny girl shoved into the “damaged girl” box. Watching her admit that her reluctance to fully fall for Aaron might be due to her own deep-seated flaws is like watching the balloon of joy blown up by the movie’s first half slowly deflate. In a way, it’s refreshing to see Schumer outside the formula of her show, branching out into different mediums. And, if you love a good rom-com, this will scratch that itch. It’s swoony and juicy and romantic — certainly worth an afternoon at the movies, and fun enough that even the most rom-com-averse can enjoy. But, I must admit, I prefer the funny girl with all her confidence and swagger.
For now, I’ll keep watching Inside Amy Schumer and root for it as it battles for seven prime time Emmys in September. The first three seasons are available on Hulu Plus, with the fourth season returning in the spring of 2016.