Amy Schumer benefits from Judd Apatow’s formula. Aug 3, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 44 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
With Trainwreck, the comedy impresario Judd Apatow has once again made a movie about an irresponsible adult-child who is compelled to grow up by the end of the film. This was the plotline of both The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, the two box-office sensations that made Apatow’s career, and it resurfaces here. Yet in the place of Virgin’s Steve Carell and Knocked Up’s Seth Rogen, the adult-child in Trainwreck is Amy Schumer, the remarkable comedienne whose shtick is based on coming on stronger and dirtier and more libidinous than her male counterparts.
Schumer is credited with the screenplay for Trainwreck, and it’s full of great one-liners and raunchy mini-sketches that only she could have dreamed up. But in the end, Apatow serves as the 21st-century pop-culture equivalent of Huck Finn’s Aunt Sally to Schumer’s persona: He adopts her and “sivilizes” her. Huck Finn insisted he was going to “light out for the Territory” rather than be tamed; Schumer is clearly only too happy to be sanitized for box-office success.
Schumer plays the title character, an up-and-coming magazine writer who spends her nights drinking and drugging and sleeping around. She is assigned to write a profile of a young surgeon who performs miraculous operations on pro athletes, and the two fall in love. Then her fear of intimacy and her commitment issues kick in, and they break up. She must straighten herself out to be worthy of him.
It shouldn’t work, because (a) the nasty men’s magazine she works for doesn’t make any sense; (b) the hilarious Bill Hader, who plays the doctor, is given nothing funny to do and must spend the entire film essentially being Darrin Stephens from Bewitched; and (c) her life crisis is solved pretty much by throwing away liquor bottles and a bong. But it does work, because it turns out that Amy Schumer is very, very good at playing Amy Schumer, or what is probably the worst possible version of Amy Schumer that even she can imagine.
“You’re not nice,” a man tells her early in the movie, and she really isn’t. She’s mean to kids, she’s thoughtless when it comes to her loving and sweet sister, and she’s pretty unscrupulous about her work. And yet she’s so clever and smart and funny that you can’t help rooting for her, which is really all the movie needs to get to you.
The other reason the movie works has to do with Apatow’s special quality as a filmmaker. His movies are often longer and looser than most comic Hollywood fare, because time and again he pulls focus away from the lead actors and the nominal plotline to zoom in on funny secondary performers who are given a surprising chance to shine.
In Trainwreck, the shocking standouts are the usually humorless Tilda Swinton, playing Amy’s vicious Sloane Ranger boss; Vanessa Bayer as Amy’s wannabe partner in promiscuous crime; the wrestling personality John Cena as Amy’s dimwitted but well-meaning pseudo-boyfriend at the movie’s beginning; and, most startling and delightful, LeBron James as himself, playing the classic role of the love object’s best friend and confidant.
The list of comedy talent Apatow has nurtured and helped to blossom by giving them time onscreen is nothing short of staggering. It includes not only Carell and Rogen and Schumer, but also Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Lena Dunham, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Cera, Emma Stone, Jason Segel, Jane Lynch, Mindy Kaling, Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Russell Brand, Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife), and more still.
This is true even in the movies that he has produced but not directed: The Five-Year Engagement (2012) gave Chris Pratt his first real breakout part as (yes) a man-child who refuses to grow up until he is knocked sideways by a lovely woman. Pratt stole the picture and showed he could dominate the screen with an intense rendition of a love ballad (in Spanish!) that was completely unnecessary in terms of advancing the story but was utterly hilarious.
Schumer might have the chops to be the second coming of Bette Midler. Or this might be all she can do. It will be interesting to see. Meanwhile, the box-office success of Trainwreck suggests that Apatow (whose last picture, the autobiographical This Is 40, was his only serious directorial misfire) may be the canniest American moviemaker of the 21st century.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.
But there are fewer laurels for craftsmanship. Jul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Every now and then, on Twitter or Facebook, I find myself referring to something I really enjoyed as “genius” or “a work of genius” or “pure genius.” Why do I do this? After all, I don’t actually think Richard Benjamin’s performance as an unhinged Jewish Van Helsing in the 1979 Dracula parody Love at First Bite is “genius.” I think it’s hilarious and unexpected and that Benjamin’s turn raises the movie’s comic game.
Inside Riley Anderson is the better place to be. Jul 20, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 42 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The new Pixar film about an 11-year-old girl’s moment of crisis and change is called Inside Out, and it’s a perfect title—maybe too perfect for its own good. Everything the movie shows going on inside Riley’s head is glorious. And that’s most of what we see, so Inside Out deserves to be called the best American movie of the year so far.
The dinosaur quality of a blockbuster franchise.Jun 29, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 40 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Jurassic World is a movie about itself. It tells a story about the difficulty of making special effects exciting when it seems like audiences have already seen it all. In the movie, the titular theme park has been built on the same island that hosted the old Jurassic Park back in the day when people would gasp upon seeing a realistic-looking T. rex—just as many of the same multiplexes that are showing Jurassic World showed Jurassic Park 22 years ago.
Not for the first time, the star outshines the movie. Jun 22, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 39 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
As a comic actress, Melissa McCarthy resembles a first-rate baseball pitcher—because, unlike many of her brethren, who have a singular shtick and stick with it, she has both a curve and a fastball.
The heart and soul of a late revelation. Jun 15, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 38 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
William Butler Yeats might have described an old person as a “paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick,” but then Yeats didn’t live to see the 72-year-old actress Blythe Danner bloom like a bird of paradise in the first starring role she’s had on screen in her 43-year career. I’ll See You in My Dreams was made over the course of 18 days for $500,000, and its modesty is evident in every frame.
The first postapocalyptic vision remains the best. May 25, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 35 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
One Friday evening in 1980, I journeyed to the far West Side of Chicago to a drive-in on Cicero Avenue and attended what may have been the strangest double feature in the history of the world. The top of the bill was The Gong Show Movie, a film written by, directed by, and starring Chuck Barris, the host of the TV show of the same name. The B-picture was something called Mad Max.
When the superheroes join forces, it’s time to head for the hills.May 18, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 34 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Offering an opinion of Avengers: Age of Ultron is like reviewing Chex Mix. According to what stand-ard should one judge this mixture of breakfast cereal and pretzels and croutons and salt? Even if you find it bland or uninteresting you’ll probably have a few handfuls anyway. And if you love it, you love it uncritically and unreservedly—until, perhaps, you eat too much of it and then feel a little sick.
The camera as chronicler of marital deadlock.
May 11, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 33 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
There are several key shots in movies—the visual strategies directors and cinematographers and editors use to establish scene, mood, movement, and dramatic tension, guiding the viewer’s eye to important information.
Liam Neeson in action is worth watching. But for how long?Mar 30, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 28 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Run All Night is unquestionably the best of the seemingly endless series of thrillers Liam Neeson has made since 2008’s Taken made him a most unlikely action star at the age of 56. And yet, rather than being celebrated for rising above the others, Run All Night has been received so poorly by moviegoers one must now presume that Neeson’s surprising later-in-life dash through the international box office as one of the cinema’s most reliable money-makers is nearing its end.
How much longer for pleasant, diversionary cinema? Mar 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 26 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
There should be movies like Focus every week. It’s a stylish and amusing film with glamorous actors, memorable supporting players, lush settings, and lots of twists and turns. Will Smith plays a successful con artist who chisels people all over the world. He’s amused when a two-bit newbie played by Margot Robbie tries to run a hustle on him—amused and also powerfully attracted, because Margot Robbie may be the most beautiful woman to grace the screen since the 1960s heyday of Natalie Wood and Julie Christie.
Including the virtue of keeping a straight faceMar 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 24 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
When I tell you that, in my opinion, the three novels now known as the Fifty Shades Trilogy are the worst books I have ever read all the way through, I am not telling you anything interesting. To criticize E. L. James’s publishing version of winning the Irish Sweepstakes is to attack a cultural phenomenon entirely beyond the reach of criticism. These three books, originally published as a series of posts on a fan-fiction website, ended up earning their author $95 million in a single year.
A musical love story finds its mediumFeb 23, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 23 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
I don’t remember when I have been more deeply affected by a film than I was by The Last Five Years, a jewel box of a movie-musical that is unquestionably the best of its kind since Chicago was released in 2003. It is at once a tiny slip of a thing and an emotional blockbuster. Over the course of a brisk 90 minutes, The Last Five Years provides an exhilarating and devastating account of the relationship between a successful young writer and an unsuccessful young actress.
A grim, epic allegory of Putin’s RussiaFeb 9, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 21 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The director of the new Russian movie Leviathan now lives in Canada. This was a wise decision on Andrey Zvyagintsev’s part—because even though Leviathan received grants from the Russian government and was officially selected to represent the country in this year’s Oscar race, at some point in the near future, Zvyagintsev’s career and maybe his life won’t be worth a plugged kopek in his homeland.