trainwreck scene

Feministing Chat: Amy Schumer’s new rom com Trainwreck

Because we are obsessed with Amy Schumer, we, columnists Katie Barnes and Reina Gattuso, decided to take on her new, amazing, complicated, fabulous, flawed, feminist movie Trainwreck. Because we are obsessed with each other, we are decided to interview each other about the film. Are there spoilers? You bet your ass there are.

Like this entire plot spoiler, right now: Trainwreck is about a Manhattanite lady writer named Amy, played by Amy Schumer, who drinks a lot and has a lot of sex and sometimes blacks out and wakes up in Staten Island and is generally a slutty mcslut slut. She sort-of dates a meathead who is actually gay and then meets, falls in love with, breaks up with, and (surprise!!!!) gets back together with wacky-cute sports doctor Aaron, played by Bill Hader, who is friends with Lebron James, played by Lebron James.

Reina: Trainwreck is a romantic comedy and there’s no getting out of that. Girl meets guy, girl loses guy, guy has a heart-to-heart with LeBron James, girl dances at the end and gets guy back. Feminists have a pretty fraught relationship with romantic comedies in general, and especially with narratives in which a woman is transformed to be with the man of her dreams. Amy goes from a hard-drinking party girl to a one-man woman. As funny and edgy as the film is in some respects, is this ultimately just a slut-reforms-for-man-of-dreams movie? Or is it all more complex with that?

Katie: I definitely think it is more complex than that! Even though she did end up with one guy and “reformed,” it was about Amy making the best choice for her. I thought it was interesting that there wasn’t a lot of slut shaming in the film itself, minus a few comments from “dudes,” nor was there a condemnation of alcohol consumption or smoking pot, except in regards to the overall health of Amy. The film never said, sleeping around is bad, drinking is bad, and pot is bad. Instead there was a much more nuanced approach that provided space for Amy to consider why she was the way she was, whether or not that was healthy for her, and go down a path she independently chose for herself. She chose to be with Aaron; he didn’t save her, and that is a key difference. What do you think? Is complexity a cop-out? Should we be more concerned about the unfettered narrative?

Reina: I regularly vacillate between completely believing that Amy Schumer is a perfect human being and that she is, like, the feminist antichrist. Obviously she’s neither; she’s just a really fucking talented woman comic/writer doing her often really subversive thing. That in and of itself is amazing, and complex. Being a person is amazing, and complex. And I think all too often, as feminists watching films or hanging out on Twitter or judging other feminists, we look for ideological purity when we should be looking for ideological complexity. Like movie-Amy says about her movie-dad at his movie-funeral: Amy Schumer has probably offended everyone here, but she is also one of my favorite people.

So no, complexity is not a cop-out. On one level, I felt kind of personally betrayed by the tidy romantic comedy ending. I craved something different — I don’t know what; maybe polyamorous utopia  — than the two ending up together.

But it’s not all about plot. The way that Amy and Aaron get there is really unique. Amy is a gutsy, funny, quirky, smart, irreverent character, and the writing itself is gutsy, funny, quirky, smart. It shatters the generic, airbrushed gloss of romantic comedies in a big way. I think that’s awesome, and just as important as the plot itself.

Katie: I also don’t think that the satirical nature of Schumer’s comedic style can be discounted here. She pokes fun at the rom-com genre the whole way through the film, turning it on its head and instilling hyper-emotional responses to relationships — traditionally associated with women — to male characters, which is interesting in addition to being funny. In so many ways, Trainwreck is not a traditional romantic comedy, which has to be recognized…even though Amy danced to Uptown girl in a cheerleader costume at the end. I think you’re right about how Amy and Aaron “get there.” It is totally gutsy, funny, and messy — like many relationships are. That journey is what lessens the blow of a literal manifestation of the quintessential stereotype of the “cheerleader” dancing for “her man” at the end, because while that is a read one could make, it is also doesn’t get to the heart of the matter or honor the characters’ development through the film.

Reina: What about monogamy? Amy is taught from the beginning by her lovable fuck-up of a father that monogamy is impossible, mostly because he likes to cheat on her mom. At the end of the film, however, she finds the perfect dude and seems to end in monogamous harmony. Does Schumer’s vision seem to allow for respectful and responsible non-monogamy? Or does it seem to imply that non-monogamy is just for people with Daddy issues?

Katie: I think it’s important to consider the type of non-monogamy represented in the film. In the opening scene, the justification Amy’s father gave for his philandering exploits were implicitly grounded in his womanizing and arguably misogynistic perspective. That was the perspective Amy internalized. Put in tandem with her job at men’s magazine S’nuff, Amy truly functioned as a representation of her own oppression in many ways. There is nothing wrong with responsible non-monogamy, but she wasn’t doing that. By not actually exploring polyamory and/or nonmonogamy as viable relationship options, Trainwreck effectively pushed those concepts aside, and opted for a traditional narrative of reform that doesn’t really do the storyline justice. What do you think about the portrayal of Schumer’s sexuality? How could respectful non-monogamy be incorporated?

Reina: The internalized-oppression thing is really interesting, and really complex. A lot of Schumer’s other work deals with this: Women hating on other women or judging other women. And Schumer’s comedic persona — the quintessential basic white bitch — also plays with this idea of women doing self-defeating things to live up to cultural standards or to impress men.

The frustrating thing, and the interesting thing, however, is that I never know exactly how to read this persona. Sometimes it’s so obviously a critique, but other times it’s less obvious. Like, are Amy’s sexual exploits a critique of modern dating culture or of male philandering or of compulsory monogamy? Or are we just supposed to think she’s fucked up when she’s sleeping with a lot of people and she’s responsible and adult when she chooses only Aaron? If that’s the case, is Schumer suggesting that sleeping with multiple people is something fucked-up people do and monogamy is something responsible people do? I don’t know if the logic of the film allows for someone to both sleep with multiple people and be mature, and that bugs me.

Then again, Amy Schumer makes a living off of really complex interesting jokes about sleeping with lots of people so maybe the joke’s on all of us suckers sitting here parsing that shit out rather than making big bucks on it.

What about race in the film? There are a number of characters of color in the film, but none of them are particularly big parts, and I worry that a lot of the POC characters are treated more as punchlines than as funny people. Parts of it seemed pretty fetishistic. Amy tells her father off at one point for being racist, but she also seems pretty racist — like, it just seems like she replaces her father’s more overt racism with more contemporary, “subtle” forms of racism. What did you think?

Katie: The most awkward scene for me was the play on the token Black friend. It ended up being an ok scene because Amy was called out for being a little bit racist by Aaron, which was a breath of fresh air. Race could have been more of an actual point, but overall, I think it was pretty lazy and did little to nothing in the way of diminishing the recent criticism of Schumer as having a “blind spot” around race. Where do you think race was fetishized? What changes could have been made to incorporate people of color instead of just leaving them on the periphery?

Also…what was with the kind of homophobic but mostly intellectually lazy gay jokes with the muscle guy? I’d love your thoughts on that.

Reina: Oh my God, the muscle guy. Like: “Gay dudes have anal sex sometimes THAT’S A JOKE GET IT.” No shit, really? You know how straight people who totally aren’t homophobic will sometimes try to prove how totally not homophobic they are by outing closeted people, or complaining about closeted people being closeted. I feel like on some level that’s what’s happening here. Like, we’re all okay with gay people, it’s 2015, so isn’t it funny that this dude is still closeted?? Haha anal sex. 

Oh, the “how many Black friends do you have?” scene was so uncomfortable and also so brilliant and also so uncomfortable! Like a lot of the race stuff in the film, it was both this spot-on critique of the racist shit that white people do, and a replication of the racist shit white people do.

This whole dialogue within the film about what’s racist and what’s not — Amy calling her dad racist; Aaron calling Amy racist — is very meta and cool and invites us to critique the film itself. But in the film, this discussion is exclusively among white people. Like with some of the queer content, it reminded me pretty viscerally of whose perspective was still centered in this film: A straight white person. So I never knew when the race stuff and the queerness stuff were uncomfortable in interesting, critical ways and when they were uncomfortable in ways that just reinforced racist and queerphobic tropes.

And ultimately, I think that’s what makes Trainwreck and much of Schumer’s work so good, so sharp, so compelling, and also so difficult: It punches hard, but I’m not always sure in which direction. And when the punch lands on me — when it’s a gay joke, or a joke about sluttiness — I don’t always know if the joke hurts because it’s so sharp and critical and real or because Schumer’s being a big bully. Schumer’s work is as flawed and complex as people are. But which people?

You should answer our questions or ask your own in the comments section below!

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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