Tag Archives: **½

Don’t Breathe **½|****

Dylan Minnette and Jane Levy in Don't Breathe
Dylan Minnette and Jane Levy in Don’t Breathe

This home invasion horror-thriller from the Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez begins with a fine setup, has some fantastically tense moments in the second act but it pushes its simple and believable premise to ludicrous extremes by its conclusion. While Don’t Breathe isn’t as downright scary as it’s been made out to be by its trailers, it uses the small details in the frame to ratchet up the suspense and make good on those setups with some well-earned payoffs. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of variation within this confined setting and the limited number of characters that leads to some repetitive storytelling that eventually wears out its welcome.

The plot brings together three desperate delinquents Alex (Dylan Minnette), Rocky (Jane Levy) and her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) as they break into houses and steal valuables throughout run-down areas of Detroit. After a particularly unlucrative heist, Money gets a tip on a house whose owner (Stephen Lang) supposedly has $300,000 in cash stored away but when they arrive at the man’s home, they discover that he’s completely blind and lives only with his dog. Seeing this as an easy opportunity, the trio follow through with their plan but soon found out that their victim isn’t nearly as helpless as they previously assumed.

As one might expect, these moments during the initial break-in when the tables slowly begin to turn make up the best and most memorable sections of the film. The sound design and the bass-heavy score are both impeccable as the three thieves snoop around to get the lay of the land and narrowly avoid creaky floorboards and broken pieces of glass. When their presence is detected by the blind man and he seems to gain the upper hand on his intruders, every cell phone vibration and, as the title suggests, every breath is treated with tremendous caution and trepidation.

A problem develops as the story progresses where empathy and morality are spread too thin even among its four (five, if you count the dog) characters and it becomes harder to find someone to root for, even in their dire circumstances. Rocky has a rocky home life, to say the least, and plots to use the newly-acquired cash to move to California with her younger sister but even her motivations become more muddled as greed takes over as her defining character trait. On the other side of things, the blind man earns sympathy from his debilitating condition but without giving too much away, there are story elements introduced that highlight some loathsome behavior on his part as well.

Maybe some more thorough character development early on could have helped avoid these issues but Alvarez makes it clear that he doesn’t want to waste any time getting into the movie’s primary location. With an 88 minute runtime, most of which takes place in real time, the focus is intentionally kept tight on the cat-and-mouse predicament without allowing for the kind of nuance that could have made this a more complete thriller. If you’re looking for lean and mean nail-biter, this one does deliver with some well-conceived setpieces but don’t expect Don’t Breathe to leave you breathless.

Star Trek Beyond **½|****

Zachary Quinto, Sofia Boutella and Karl Urban in Star Trek Beyond
Zachary Quinto, Sofia Boutella and Karl Urban in Star Trek Beyond

In one of the early scenes in the newest Star Trek installment, a world-weary Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) remarks in voiceover how life on the Enterprise has lost some of its luster and how “things feel a bit more episodic” than usual. Whether the comparison was intended or not, this seems to sum up the main issues that stem from Star Trek Beyond as a film and as a part of the rebooted franchise. By the standards of a summer blockbuster, it’s a serviceable sci-fi action outing but it can’t escape feeling like a by-the-numbers effort from a team that’s capable of delivering something much more memorable.

We pick things back up with the starship fleet as they undergo a rescue mission on behalf of an alien survivor whom they discover drifting aimlessly in an escape pod. When they arrive at what is supposed to be the remains of the survivor’s ship, it becomes evident that an ambush is afoot and the ensuing damage leaves the Enterprise decimated and its crew separated from one another in different areas of a nearby planet. With limited use of technology and without the resources of their ship, the crew members must reconvene to stop an emerging threat who means to take down the entire Federation.

This is the first Star Trek film directed by Fast & Furious alum Justin Lin and the absence of the now Star Wars-focused JJ Abrams is sorely felt here. Lin clearly knows how to put together a competent action scene and even does well with scenes of smaller character interactions but there’s just not the same sense of cohesion and momentum that Abrams developed with the previous two entries. This is most evident in the middle third of the movie, in which Lin attempts to juggle the varying locations and situations but doesn’t manage to pull these transitions off with the kind of kinetic energy that is seemingly secondhand to Abrams.

These stranded scenes offer some enticing pairings (Spock and Bones made up my favorite by far) and some that go absolutely nowhere (Sulu and Uhura don’t have nearly enough to do) but in either scenario, we don’t learn much more about the characters that we haven’t learned in previous Star Trek stories. Fortunately, the film finds some fresh blood in the form of a fierce alien scavenger named Jaylah, played by Algerian actress Sofia Boutella. Her tenacity, along with some exceptional costume design and makeup work, contribute to what seems to be the most compelling addition this time around.

The same can’t be said for the wonderfully talented Idris Elba, who’s stuck as another generic villain with a bit more of a backstory but not nearly enough in the way of plausible motivation. The biggest reason Into Darkness remains my favorite of this trilogy is because of the intelligence and menace that Benedict Cumberbatch brought to his antagonist and it’s a shame that Elba wasn’t able to do more with his character here as well. Star Trek Beyond is an ironic title for a film that doesn’t seem terribly interested in moving things forward but those looking for familiar comforts may come out with enough to be satisfied.

De Palma **½|****

Tom Cruise and Brian De Palma in De Palma
Tom Cruise and Brian De Palma in De Palma

For almost 50 years, filmmaker Brian De Palma has carved out his own signature style of sensationalism that has led to commercial hits (The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible), critical duds (Mission to Mars, The Black Dahlia) and others that found success further down the road (Scarface, Carlito’s Way). No matter what kind of movie he’s making, there’s never a doubt that everything he wants you to react to is right there on the screen. This kind of visceral approach can be thrilling in the moment and in De Palma’s case, produce some classic cinematic sequences but it doesn’t always leave much for the audience to look for under the surface.

Directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow seem to have lifted this ethic from their subject when making their new documentary De Palma about the director’s life and career. During their two-hour interview in which each of his films are discussed at varying lengths, there are plenty of great on-set anecdotes and enlightening bits of commentary about the film industry but not enough glimpses of introspection that might give us insight to his way of thinking. The end result is something a bit more shallow and matter-of-fact than it could have been but still worthwhile for those interested in digging into De Palma’s filmography.

Anyone familiar with his work can tell you how inspired he is by Alfred Hitchcock and I admired how Baumbach and Paltrow framed De Palma’s guiding principle of cinema as voyeurism from his first viewing of Vertigo in 1958. The act of “spying” as it correlates to an audience watching a movie is covered most clearly in Rear Window but De Palma argues that the subtext of Vertigo is just as relevant to how people consume films. Much in the way that Scottie works to transform Judy into his idolized image of “Madeleine”, we seek meaning in the characters that are presented to us by projecting our own experiences and values onto them, whether they truly apply or not.

After this introductory analysis and some biographical notes about his early life, the film then goes through the movies that De Palma has made through the years and some summarizing thoughts from the director on each work. Rather than making this a traditional talking head documentary with opinions from others on his work, the form is kept more candid and personal by allowing De Palma to talk through his own experiences with each project. However, it does make me wonder if some outside perspective could have allowed the filmmakers to dive deeper into the thematic strands of his work, as there isn’t as much connecting tissue between his films as I would have liked to have seen.

I confess I haven’t seen of the majority of the 25+ films covered in this documentary (Blow Out piqued my interest more than any other) but after seeing all of these clips together in one sitting, I’m eager to visit and re-visit the director’s work. De Palma may not be a “consensus” filmmaker but his divisiveness is clearly an integral part of what’s kept him around all of these years. It’s fitting, then, that I may have a mixed opinion on De Palma the documentary as I do De Palma the movie maker.

Finding Dory **½|****

Ellen DeGeneres and Ed O'Neill in Finding Dory
Ellen DeGeneres and Ed O’Neill in Finding Dory

Pixar hops onto the often lucrative sequel train once again for Finding Dory, a long delayed follow-up to their hugely successful 2003 film Finding Nemo. Director and co-writer Andrew Stanton is back with a story that closely follows the narrative beats that worked for its predecessor but also touches on some darker and more mature themes that are a welcome departure from the frivolous tone of most animated adventures. It’s disappointing, then, that the movie jettisons most of these concepts in the final act for a more juvenile and inconsequential approach that comes off as goofy rather than grounded.

It’s one year after the events of Nemo and we are re-introduced to amnesiac blue fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) as she begins to have foggy flashbacks of her childhood and her long lost parents. She becomes determined to find them and her quest leads her to a coastal California aquarium, where she befriends the lovably gruff seven-legged octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) and re-unites with her whale shark childhood friend Destiny (Kaitlin Olson). With the help of many other supporting characters, Dory traverses the obstacles of the frequently perilous Marine Life Institute in hopes of reuniting with her family.

One of the noticeable improvements on the original is the impeccable visual design that serves as a reminder for how quickly technology is advancing in the realm of animated filmmaking. If you had asked me 5 years ago what the best looking Pixar movie was, I probably would have said Finding Nemo but the level of photorealism that the studio has reached in their most recent efforts is nothing short of remarkable. Beyond just being aesthetically pleasing, the definition and the vibrancy behind these characters and settings also allows for some fun visual gags too, as when Hank uses his camouflage capabilities to seamlessly blend into his surroundings.

For all of the intelligence that went behind the look of this movie, it seems that there were other elements that were dumbed down in order to compensate. The premise essentially boils down to one primary motivation and while the contrivances that arise are sometimes clever and inventive, they eventually undermine basic principles of logic and physics that seem far-fetched for any animated film, much less one from Pixar. The overblown climax, which involves a car chase in which an octopus successfully drives a car on a highway, may be silly enough to work for smaller children but left cynical little adult me straining not to roll his eyes.

There are smaller scale setpieces that tend to fare much better, like Dory and Hank’s terrifying trip to a touch pool where children’s hands dart in from the water’s surface like jagged bolts of lightning. Even the quieter moments in Dory’s flashbacks, in which she struggles to recapture memories from her fragmented childhood, build to something even more poignant than the emotional center of Nemo. If Finding Dory had stuck to more sophisticated storytelling instead of panders to its younger audience, there’s no doubt that it would have been a more worthy and likely superior successor.

Keanu **½|****

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in Keanu
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in Keanu

Television comedy stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele make their film debut with an unbearably adorable co-star in the new action comedy Keanu, which isn’t without its intermittent charms but ultimately feels like a series of five-minute comedy sketches separated by noticeable gaps of filler. Key and Peele play cousins Clarence and Rell, the latter of whom finds solace post-breakup in a newly discovered kitten who he names Keanu (a possible allusion to the similarly-plotted Keanu Reeves movie John Wick). After Rell’s apartment is burglarized and Keanu is nowhere in sight, the two team up to infiltrate the feared 17th Street Blips gang when they learn that the group’s leader Cheddar (Method Man) may have kidnapped their tiny feline companion.

Right from the beginning, the film’s most obvious positive attribute is the flawless comedic chemistry on display between the two lead actors. After 5 consistently funny seasons of their acclaimed TV show, it’s comforting to find that none of the duo’s wit or timing has been lost in translation when making the leap to feature films. While the two aren’t aided much on the comedy side of things —Will Forte is horribly mis-cast as a clueless drug dealer and a second act cameo similarly falls flat— I was surprised how grounded and, dare I say, compelling the acting was from most of the gang member characters.

As is to be expected, most of the film’s laughs come from the fish-out-of-water premise that arises when these two laid-back guys hastily adapt their own “gangster” personas in order to earn the trust and respect of the 17th Street Blips. Key and Peele, along with director and TV series collaborator Peter Atencio, attack this central joke from just about every conceivable angle and approach subjects of race and class with the same level of intelligence displayed in the best sketches from their show. All of these elements are wrapped up perfectly in the movie’s most successful scene: an impromptu George Michael listening session initiated by Clarence, who gives a hilarious retelling of the rise and fall of the pop group Wham! to a car full of pensive young gang members.

Even though this film clearly isn’t aiming for a plausible or remotely realistic storyline, I do wish there was much more creativity with the storytelling and the style behind it. While the setup is simple, the steps that the story takes after it begin to get ludicrous in a hurry but not in a way that’s especially entertaining. Satirizing big action scenes isn’t necessarily a flawed concept (Hot Fuzz did this to tremendous effect) but when you do so without any sort of attitude or new perspective towards the source material that you’re spoofing, it just comes off as lazy and anonymous filmmaking. There’s no doubt that Key and Peele have a great comedy movie still in their future and my best hope for Keanu is that it does well enough at the box office to make that future possible.

The Jungle Book **½|****

Bill Murray and Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book
Bill Murray and Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book

With numerous film adaptations under its belt already, Rudyard Kipling’s story collection The Jungle Book receives its most expensive re-interpretation to date. This “live-action” version (a term I hesitate to use, given how much reliance there is on computer-generated effects) is most closely related to Disney’s 1967 animated version and could be considered more of a remake of that film rather than a strict retelling of the source material from Kipling. While this newest iteration puts forth some truly jaw-dropping visual effects and an outstanding voice cast, there’s still something hollow at the heart of this film’s execution that makes it come across as more of a nostalgia cash-grab rather than a faithful re-telling of the original story.

This film follows the same narrative beats of Disney’s previous animated work, which introduces Mowgli (Neel Sethi) as an orphaned young boy living among talking creatures in a mythical jungle. His surrogate father, a black panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), also acts as Mowgli’s protector as he is being mercilessly hunted by the vengeful tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). On his journey to flee the now unsafe jungle, he also receives aid from the sloth bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and a smorgasbord of other animals with more questionable motives at play.

I should re-iterate early on just how blown away I was with director Jon Favreau’s visualization of this jungle landscape. I didn’t have high expectations for seeing a film shot entirely with green screens but there’s an attention to detail in the settings and the realization of each creature that is breathtaking and clearly state-of-the-art. As good as the movie looks, the sound design may actually be even more laudable than the visual achievement put forth. When you take into account the cacophony of ambient noise present in such a vast nature setting, it’s mind-boggling to think how much time went into re-creating all of the levels of auditory realism.

In addition to the stellar work from the audio side of things, the vocal casting is particularly on point as well. Bill Murray brings a warm humor and quiet gentleness to Baloo and Idris Elba is properly menacing as the most despicable version of Shere Khan yet. Lupita Nyong’o, who plays a wolf and mother figure to Mowgli, is absolutely astonishing in the few scenes that she has in the film. Sadly, Neel Sethi’s performance isn’t quite up to the level of his co-stars and is undercut by stiff line readings and an underlying artificiality behind his interactions with the computer-generated creatures.

On the surface, there may not be as much to criticize here but my chief complaint is perhaps more of an esoteric one: this just feels like a very safe play for Disney at this point. I won’t deny the craft and creativity that went into making this film but at the same time, it could have been a much more memorable achievement if Favreau and his production team hadn’t hedged their bets with a more conventional storytelling approach and an almost slavish reverence towards the far from perfect animated movie. We’ve seen with recent successes like Zootopia how rewarding it can be when Disney steps even a bit outside their comfort zone and in terms of narrative ambition, The Jungle Book feels like more of a step back than it should have been.

Hail, Caesar! **½|****

Tilda Swinton and Josh Brolin in Hail, Caesar!
Tilda Swinton and Josh Brolin in Hail, Caesar!
The Coen Brothers have proven throughout their illustrious careers that they can make just about any kind of movie that they want and with their new effort Hail, Caesar!, they return to one of their most cherished settings: the glamorous days of 1950s Hollywood. This was a time when massive movie studios could house dozens of individual productions on their lots, each with their own set of delicate demands and hangups with which to contend. Because of this potentially volatile environment, the studio system spawned top-level positions for “fixers”, who would not only oversee film production but also keep their high-profile actors out of trouble and especially out of the tabloids.

Enter Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), whose title of “Head of Physical Production” at Capitol Pictures is basically a sophisticated way of saying that he’s the guy who runs in and out of movie sets all day trying to solve each problem that arises. Throughout his strenuous day, he deals with issues ranging from the pregnancy of unmarried actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) to a Western movie star who is disastrously recast into a high-class period drama. However, his main task involves tracking down famed actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), who disappeared from the studio’s biggest production Hail, Caesar! and appears to have been kidnapped by a group who call themselves The Future.

This may be the first time that I’ve felt that the Coen Brothers have potentially bitten off more than they could chew. This film is jam packed with potentially memorable characters, a number of whom only appear in one or two scenes, and promising setpieces that ultimately lack any greater meaning or relevancy to the story at hand. The marketing for Hail, Caesar! promises the same kind of manic zaniness of their 2008 comedy Burn After Reading but it’s not nearly as well paced or structured as that film, which has only gotten better with repeated viewings.

Even though the day-in-the-life framework might suggest a tighter focus on Brolin’s character, the story instead seems to keep expanding further as it goes along. New characters continue to be introduced well past the one hour mark and sub-plots crop up like tangents in a conversation that was never terribly interesting to begin with. The political and religious allusions add a bemusing layer of subtext that may well reveal itself further upon deeper analysis but doesn’t add much to the story from a humor perspective.

Despite the aimless direction, there is no denying that there are specific sequences that work tremendously. A scene between characters played by Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich, the latter of whom is struggling with a particularly boorish line reading, is one of the funniest dialogue exchanges in the Coen catalog. The large-scale production numbers involving synchronized swimming and sailor-costumed tap dancing are first-rate throwbacks to the genre films of the era. This love letter to old Hollywood could have benefited from a re-write (or two) and a great deal of more concentration from these masterful directors.

Brooklyn **½|****

Domhnall Gleeson and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn
Domhnall Gleeson and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

I feel like a jerk for not liking this movie. Brooklyn is about as pleasant of a movie-going experience as you can expect to have all year; a willfully old-fashioned throwback to a time when dramatic stakes were comparatively trivial by today’s standards. To say that I was underwhelmed by the story might have more to do with some innate desire for conflict than with any particular failings of the film itself. There’s little doubt that it will appeal to many who seek it out but despite a rapturous lead performance by Saoirse Ronan and a handful of visual treats, I couldn’t find enough here to include myself among its ardent admirers.

Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young Irish shopgirl who grows weary of her mundane village and decides to immigrate to 1950s New York in search of new opportunities. There she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian-American plumber with an amiable disposition and an undying loyalty to his Brooklyn Dodgers. The two fall fast in love and hastily marry before Eilis is called back to her homeland for a family emergency. After only a few weeks, she finds herself becoming reattached to all that she left behind and must make a choice to return to her new husband in Brooklyn or stay in her native Ireland town.

Going into this film, I was not aware of the Colm Tóibín novel that inspired it and while screenwriter Nick Hornby does add some charming touches to the dialogue, the story didn’t have nearly enough dramatic thrust to maintain my interest. Even when I was intermittently wrapped up in the narrative, there was never a point when I had any doubt about how things would turn out. With the exception of Eilis, I was also disappointed with the lack of depth in the supporting characters, who tend to embody sanitized stereotypes rather than lend much needed personality to the story.

Despite this shallowness, Saoirse Ronan rises above and turns in yet another captivating performance filled with poise and confidence beyond her years. Her face has a sort of magnetic expressiveness to it that gives the impression that her character is constantly searching for new and deeper meaning with each interaction. Ultimately, Eilis’ physical and metaphorical journey is the most interesting part of this story and Ronan hits all of the notes of her transformation beautifully. Ever since her breakout role in 2007’s Atonement, she has proven herself to be one of the finest young actresses around and her work here is integral to the modest successes of the film.

Another recent release, Todd Haynes’ Carol, is also a novel-adapted melodrama set in a stylized version of 1950s New York that features a shopgirl as one of its main characters. While that film has more lurid subject material and is aiming to tell a different kind of romance story altogether,  Brooklyn could have benefited from more adventurous storytelling and more fleshed out characters in the periphery. It may win the award for most innocuous movie of the year but it didn’t have enough of its own personality to move me past polite praise.

The Gift **½|****

Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall in The Gift
Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall in The Gift

Australian actor Joel Edgerton makes his directorial debut with the slow-burn, psychological thriller The Gift, a film that builds up quite a case for itself until its clumsy climax manages to tarnish the memory of its well-devised setup. The script, also penned by Edgerton, does include an appealing level of ambiguity not often showcased in modern American movies but it also doesn’t do much to sidestep genre clichés that crop up periodically in the story. In some ways, it is a mature film with worthy themes but it also feels like it’s trying very hard to be a movie “for adults”, often delving into oppressive levels of self-seriousness just to keep a straight face.

We meet LA newcomers Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) as they move into their luxurious new home with the intention of starting a new life and with hope, a new family as well. While out running errands, a man named Gordo (Edgerton, again) introduces himself to Simon as an old classmate from his high school years ago and the two awkwardly exchange contact information. What started as an “accidental” run-in develops quickly into a one-sided relationship when Gordo continually drops by for unannounced visits and sneaks unexpected gifts onto their doorstep. Eventually put off by the “friendly” displays, Simon insists on Gordo vacating their personal lives but it becomes clear that the two have unresolved issues that Gordo intends to rectify by any means necessary.

The story and the film’s marketing hinge on this central mystery, the event(s) in the buried past of these two men that will ultimately lead to a climatic showdown. Edgerton does an admirable job in pacing the first half that leads to this moment and although the reveal is thankfully not done through blurry flashbacks or overwrought voiceover, its delivery is instead so underwhelming that I initially thought I missed out on all of the key information. It turns out that I didn’t; I was just expecting a revelation that matched the impact of its build up.

Despite struggles with the story, the performances by the three leads are excellently rendered and contribute to the near-success of this movie. Bateman turns in his finest dramatic work here, oddly enough by using similar notes from his type-A, straight man persona in comedic works to reveal depths of desperation and disrepair hidden right under the surface. Edgerton creates a character who is steeped in creeping menace but is still not beyond fleeting moments of pity, while the always reliable Hall lends a conflicted sense of emotional intelligence that raises the dramatic stakes early on.

It’s a shame that the second half and specifically the final 15-20 minutes are mishandled because there’s a strong foundation present here. If only Edgerton had stayed true to the characters instead of trying to contrive an ending intended to be shocking rather than haunting. I look forward to seeing what he does next but a few rookie mistakes kept me from graciously receiving The Gift.


Paul Rudd in Ant-Man

The second of three Marvel movies to be released this year, Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a tech savvy thief newly released from a prison stint, who gets pulled back into the crime business despite previously vowing to clean up his act for the sake of his young daughter. After confiscating what appears to be an old motorcycle suit during a late-night raid, he learns firsthand that it has the ability to shrink the wearer to the size of an insect. Impressed by his skills, the owner of the suit Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) recruit him to take down an evil businessman who’s intent on using the suit’s technology for nefarious purposes.

This may sound like typical superhero movie fare but Ant-Man does its best to distinguish itself from its predecessors by incorporating fleet-footed computer generated action and a playful brand of self-referential humor into the mix. The story cleverly compiles a cast of various species of ants, like bullet ants and electric ants, to aid Lang in his micro conquests, which gives the action scenes a more credible sense of scale than if it was just one man inching along the floor by himself. Most of the film’s biggest laughs come from the sheer silliness of seeing high-stakes setpieces taken place on such a physically small stage, as when Ant-Man does battle inside of a free falling briefcase while “Disintegration” by The Cure scores the scene brilliantly.

Despite these advancements, director Peyton Reed can’t seem to circumnavigate the same obstacles that have plagued the most recent Marvel movies. The most obvious is the absence of a worthy villain, with Darren Cross competing for the most perfunctory and shallow nemesis in the MCU so far. His lack of character development actually goes on to affect the thrust of the story and sets up a third act that feels unmotivated and tedious. On the hero side of things, I didn’t find much believable chemistry between the three leads and the forced flirtation between Rudd and Lilly seemed equally dubious. I give credit for Ant-Man being the “little Marvel movie that could” but I know I could have enjoyed it more if some of the bugs had been worked out.


Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in Trainwreck
Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in Trainwreck

Comedienne Amy Schumer looks to capitalize on the recent breakout success of her Comedy Central series with Trainwreck, a new Judd Apatow directed romantic comedy that features a screenplay written by Schumer. She also stars in the film as Amy, a promiscuous, hard-drinking party girl who keeps herself emotionally distanced from the multitude of men with whom she engages sexually. On assignment from the magazine company where she works, she meets successful sports doctor Aaron Connors (Bill Hader) and the two ease their way into a romantic relationship. This proves to be more challenging for Amy, who has been taught by her father (Colin Quinn) at a young age that monogamy is unrealistic, and the story follows the ups and downs of their courtship.

Although she doesn’t really try to avoid typical rom-com tropes and  conventions, Schumer has done a fine job adapting her sketch comedy writing skills for the big screen. Naturally, it features plenty of laugh out loud moments and funny exchanges but also includes a poignant subplot involving her complicated relationship with her younger sister that helps give the movie a better sense of direction and groundedness. There’s a naked honesty to those family scenes that seems deeply personal to Schumer, which may make some audiences uncomfortable and eager to get back to the comedy but I appreciate her effort to add a more resonant dynamic to the story.

Elsewhere, Apatow sticks to his signature brand of implementing celebrity cameos (this time, sports figures are the main focus) and largely improvised one-liners into the existing script. We know Schumer and Hader are deft comedic performers but the real surprises come from the hilarious performances of WWE wrestler John Cena as one of Amy’s flings and LeBron James as Aaron’s protective and unexpectedly stingy best friend. Both do a commendable job of holding their own against their veteran counterparts and I’d love to see either of them do comedy again in the future.