Barbara Kay: Feminists won’t like the ending of Amy Schumer’s latest flick


National Post - Wednesday August 5th, 2015

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Amy Schumer headlined two JFL42 shows on Sunday night.

Rom-com ditzy dames are a time-honoured Hollywood tradition. Comedians like Judy Holliday, Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball were adorable. And, however kooky, “nice” girls all.

But in order to satisfy feminist dogmas in our era, postmodern rom-com writers have had to premise their plots on the assumption that loveable ditz, wanton promiscuity and landing Mr. Right can triangulate harmoniously.

Which brings us to brilliant raunch comedian Amy Schumer’s first full-length film, Trainwreck.

Spoiler alert!

At first Trainwreck reminded me of the 2001 ditzy-dame film, Bridget Jones, a good example of the postmodern model. But, much the better film, Trainwreck is actually a thoughtful homage to the non-ideological rom-coms of yore.

Bridget slept with anyone, chain-smoked and boozed heavily. Yet the male protagonist, Mark Darcy — refined, sensitive, honorable, fastidious — fell hard for her. The film was channeling the Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice but, though modern Darcy is a chivalrous clone of his ancestor, Austen’s 18th century former lady had become a tramp. The humour was hollow, because it bore no relationship to life at all.

A similar postulate seems to operate in Trainwreck, in which writer Amy Schumer plays the role of “Amy,” apparently closely modelled on herself (“I’m sluttier than the average bear,” says Schumer). The film Amy exploits gorgeous men for hook-up sex. Nobody stays overnight. Next-day calls are forbidden. Like Bridget, she boozes heavily. Feminists love the role reversal.

Amy is a writer at a magazine called S’Nuff, which features articles like, “Ugliest Celebrity Kids under Six,” and “You’re not Gay, She’s Boring.” Her dehumanized and dehumanizing boss (Tilda Swinton in a star turn) presages Amy’s career fate if she continues in this soulless working parallel to her personal life.

Trainwreck’s ending may displease feminists, but art, even comedy, is always better when it takes its cue from reality.

Although she knows nothing about sports and could care less, Amy is assigned to write a profile of Aaron Connors, a celebrity sports-medicine doctor who works with famous athletes like LeBron James (who has a significant role in the movie and handles it with aplomb.)

Aaron is attractive, mature, refined, responsible, chivalrous and sexually prudent. He is a star in his profession, dedicating significant time to Doctors Without Borders. A gentleman with a gentleman’s standards, like Mark Darcy. Then he meets Amy and ditz conquers reason.

Amy makes Aaron jump through hoops, which he stoically performs – to a point: Accompanying him to a Doctors Without Borders awards luncheon, where Aaron is the honouree, Amy walks out on his speech to take a call from her boss. Aaron’s denunciation of her behaviour is pivotal. There is nothing funny about it, because Amy recognizes that she has deserved his contempt, and that her wanton, selfish lifestyle has not been female empowerment at all, but rather a symbol of her incapacity for trust and empathy.

Another pivotal scene is Amy’s father’s funeral. Here’s where the film achieves depth. The opening scene of the film has been a flashback, with the father telling his two raptly attentive daughters — Amy and her sister Kim — why he is leaving their mother. In a child-friendly, comical riff on dolls as metaphors for women, he lets adult viewers know he is a serial philanderer. He ends by telling them monogamy is the source of all unhappiness.

As grown women, Kim and Amy take radically different paths. Kim responds to her broken-home experience by seeking picket-fence stability as a mom with a bland, but trustworthy husband. Openly derisive of her sister’s seemingly boring life, Amy emulates their father, living in the superficial, appetitive moment.

When their father is stricken with MS and needs their care, Amy confronts the burden of his abandonment, tentatively admitting appreciation for redeeming qualities that nuance her feelings for him. In her graveside eulogy, she candidly enumerates her father’s deficits, but, finally able to tolerate emotional vulnerability, ends by noting that he loved his daughters. Now the door is open to a mature, monogamous relationship with a good man.

Some critics have expressed dissatisfaction with the conservative ending — Amy embracing Aaron’s  bourgeois vision of love. But in sociological terms, the ending is a victory for Amy. Girls with absent fathers are at high risk for promiscuity. Supportive fathers give women the self-confidence to be selective in their sexual behaviour. Amy must forgive her father, so that she can leave promiscuity behind and learn to trust the kind of man she wished her father had been.

In Bridget Jones, Bridget got the excellent man, but did not deserve him. In Trainwreck, Amy achieves self-knowledge and with it the humility necessary for the change that will make a lasting relationship with Aaron plausible. Trainwreck’s ending may displease feminists, but art, even comedy, is always better when it takes its cue from reality.

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