It’s been impossible to miss the ads for the movie “Trainwreck” this month, and thanks to its extensive cast of comedy stars and basketball great LeBron James, you couldn’t watch a talk show this week that didn’t have someone from the movie as a guest.
Every ad and actor made it seem like it was a raunchy celebration of a drunk and promiscuous woman’s wild life, and it is – up to a point. But because it’s a movie directed and produced by Judd Apatow, (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, “Knocked Up,” “This is 40”), there’s much more on its mind and in its heart as well. The question is, does it coarsen the culture further with its boundary-pushing comically risqué moments, or is it actually criticizing how smutty our culture has become and seeking to improve it?
And equally important: Is “Trainwreck” dateworthy? Well, that’s one even more complicated question. Let’s follow the plot, and then figure it out.
The movie opens with a scene that is darkly funny in the movie but tragic if taken as reality. Amy’s father Gordon (Colin Quinn) abandons them as young children, but before he leaves he explains marriage and divorce in terms that mess up their minds. He uses the analogy of having a favorite doll and then “having to play with it forever,” when there are other dolls they might find attractive as well. He then drills them to say that monogamy is bad, infusing that idea in their minds.
Cut to Amy’s life in her early 30s, working at a men’s magazine that has a mean-spirited sense of humor and an obsession with discussing sex. Amy’s boss decides to challenge her and gives her the assignment to cover a famous sports doctor named Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), even though she hates sports.
The idea is that the conflict between their interests will spark deeper questions and a better story. Aaron introduces her to basketball’s biggest current star (LeBron James, playing himself) and he finds it charming that she is so clueless about sports and who he is. James, who is a comic delight in the movie, is determined to make Aaron and Amy a couple.
It turns out that he doesn’t have to try hard. At the end of their first day together, Amy tells the cab driver they only need one address: Aaron’s. After she surprises him by initiating sex, Aaron – a “nice guy” who hasn’t quite reserved sex for marriage but has only had sex with the three women he loved – surprises her in return by managing to keep her sleeping next to him all the way to morning, and breaking a fundamental rule of hers.
In keeping with his breakthrough movie, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Apatow isn’t looking to mock the sexually inexperienced Aaron here despite how easily most Hollywood filmmakers would do so. Just as in “Virgin,” Hader’s more traditional-values-minded character, who’s eager to find a wife even as Amy abhors monogamy due to her father’s poisonous lessons, starts to have a positive influence on her in many ways.
Meanwhile, Amy’s dad is now dying of Muscular Dystrophy, in a touching subplot that gives the movie surprisingly strong emotional and dramatic depth. Despite his abandonment of her, she visits him regularly and fights with her sister to keep him in the best nursing home possible. When he dies and Amy delivers the eulogy, her realizations about his life spur her to improve her own as well.
But can she really change? That question, which is as old as time for every man and woman who has to make the choice in life to be a willful sinner or a person who struggles to be good, is addressed here in extremely modern terms.
The question that faithful viewers have to ask is: does a movie like “Trainwreck” drive more people into lives of sin by the fact that their comedic tone lightens the real-life sadness derived from moral decadence? Or is a filmmaker like Apatow striving to wake modern society up and believes the only way to reach the people who need a moral message the most is by appearing on the surface to be as raunchy as much of today’s entertainment?
In effect, Apatow is luring people in with the promise of decadent fun and then reaching them with a moral message they might otherwise have tuned out from more conventionally moral forums.
Having spoken to Apatow in the past and having heard him personally tell me that “Virgin” was an attempt to take a stand for goodness in a sex-drenched society, I believe he is still working that mission field. Beneath the raunch, his movie “Knocked Up” was unquestionably a pro-life movie, and he defended it as such to major media. “This Is 40” showed a long-time marriage undergoing major crises in a highly profane way, yet true love and family learned the need to take a kinder tone among themselves.
But Is It Dateworthy?
Thus, “Trainwreck” is a movie that is made for our times. Times that have grown far too crass, and this movie has plenty of that material in its four depicted sex scenes (all played for laughs, but graphic nonetheless) and plethora of sex jokes and foul language. Yet its portrayal of a woman who comes to realize she’s miserable as the proverbial trainwreck of the title is one that might be sorely needed to be seen by the people who are living in that fashion.
So about being dateworthy or not – if you or your date is easily offended, do not go. But if you can handle the “There’s Something About Mary” school of films or like Apatow’s prior work, you know what you’re getting into and are willing to embrace its ultimately good messages and terrific performances by all involved, “Trainwreck” is well worth the ride and will give you both plenty to talk about the state of modern love.