Movie Review: “Trainwreck”

Starring
Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, LeBron James, Colin Quinn
Director
Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow’s films often cover heavy, emotionally complicated territory, but they’re ice cold at the same time. The subject matter is relatable, but the manner in which it’s treated bears little resemblance to real life. (The most egregious offender: “This Is 40.” Now let us never speak of it again.) “Trainwreck,” by comparison, is the most honest, heartfelt film Apatow has made to date, and it’s hard not to notice that it’s also the first time he directed a script that he didn’t have a hand in writing.

Some back story, for the unfamiliar: Apatow has taken heat over the years for underwriting his female roles – and yes, that criticism came largely from Katherine Heigl, who cashed some monster paychecks after receiving a massive career boost by appearing in his 2007 film “Knocked Up,” therefore people accuse her of biting the hand that fed her, and while that may be the case, she’s not wrong – and perhaps this was Apatow’s attempt to make amends, by directing a script written by a woman (Amy Schumer). The crazy thing is, Schumer’s character in many ways embodies the very traits that Heigl protested (reckless, irresponsible, unaccountable), but with the female character in the lead role, you get something that previous Apatow films never provided, and that is perspective: we get both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of her character’s behavior. Also, there are no shrews in this movie. Apatow’s other movies were loaded with shrews. Who likes shrews that much?

Amy Townsend (Schumer) writes for S’Nuff, a Gawker-esque magazine with roughly 75% less humanity. She also parties nonstop and sleeps around, even though she has a boyfriend (John Cena). A fellow writer pitches an article about Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a surgeon who’s come up with a revolutionary knee procedure that will greatly reduce recovery time for athletes. S’Nuff editor Dianna (Tilda Swinton, in full Anna Wintour mode) likes the story, but assigns it to Amy, because Amy has admitted that she hates sports, and Dianna likes the idea of the paradox. Amy surprisingly finds herself fascinated with both Aaron and his work, and when she unprofessionally consummates their professional arrangement, she does unthinkable things, like actually agreeing to spend the night at his place and generally being less afraid of commitment. Amy is confused by this new change to the game plan, and she responds to it the only way she knows how: self-destruction.

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Movie Review: “Inside Out”

Starring
Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Directors
Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen

“Inside Out” has a sweet, entertaining story at its core, but it requires one of the characters to act like a complete idiot in order to set it into motion, and no matter how enjoyable the rest of the movie may be – and thankfully, it is – those acts will linger in the back of your mind, which, come to think of it, the filmmakers might find ironically funny. It’s not, though; it’s a shortcut, the kind of thing Pixar steadfastly avoided in their storytelling for well over a decade, and now that they have been getting their asses kicked by their peers at Disney Animation (“Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6”) for the last three years, you’d think that they would come up with a better story than this. And to be fair, they came up with a good concept; it just has a bad setup.

As Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) is born, we see her emotions being “born,” as it were, in her head. The first two, as one might imagine, are Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), but they are soon joined by Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black, in the part he was born to play), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Most of the time, Joy is in charge of Riley’s emotions because Riley lives a charmed life, but when Riley’s father moves the family from Minnesota to San Francisco for a work opportunity, Riley’s emotions are all out of whack, a problem that is worsened when Sadness continues to taint core memories so that they turn from happy ones to sad ones in Riley’s mind. In her attempt to stop this from happening, Joy tries to take control of the situation, but in the process, she and Sadness accidentally get transferred to Riley’s long-term memory and far away from the control panel, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust in charge. Riley becomes an emotional wreck, and the longer Joy is away, the worse things get.

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Movie Review: “The To Do List”

Starring
Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Scott Porter, Bill Hader, Rachel Bilson, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele
Director
Maggie Carey

There are lots of individual things to like about “The To-Do List.” Aubrey Plaza delivers a fearless performance as the curious virgin, her supporting cast delivers laughs by the pound, and the movie has a coming-of-age vibe to it that was unexpected but most welcome. (You would think that the themes of first-time sex and coming of age would cross paths often, but they really don’t.) For everything it does well, though, it could have done it better. It’s funny, but could have been funnier. It’s clever, but botches golden opportunities to deliver a memorable, poignant one-liner. It works in fits and starts, but there always seems to be something that derails its momentum.

It is June 1993, and Brandy Klark (Plaza) has just graduated from high school. She is class valedictorian, fond of correcting her friends’ grammar, and the most inexperienced virgin on the planet. After a drunken, mistaken-identity encounter with mysterious college-age hunk Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), Brandy decides that before she heads off to college, she needs to know how to handle herself when it comes to sex, the ultimate goal being losing her virginity to the out-of-her-league Rusty. As she gains experience, though, she loses perspective on how her actions affect those around her, particularly her longtime adoring lab partner Cameron (Johnny Simmons).

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