GIRLS GONE WILD or THE TWO AMY’S: Movie Reviews of Amy and Trainwreck by Howard Casner

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amyHow you feel about the new documentary on the short life of jazz singer Amy Winehouse, Amy, will probably to some degree depend on how you feel about Ms. Winehouse herself.

For me, she has an amazing voice that will pierce your soul. She is quite a mesmerizing singer.

At the same time, I have to be honest and say that I was not all that impressed by her as a lyricist (Cole Porter, Bob Dylan and Judy Collins she ain’t) and the hooks to her songs never really took me in as I wished they might have.

But if you disagree, and I expect a huge number of people will do just that, then that might help you overlook other issues I think the movie has.

Winehouse led a momentary and unhappy existence. She was one of those singer/songwriters whose every musical creation was a personal revelation about herself and her life. And she was very brave in not holding anything back.


At the same, this was also something that probably and ironically helped lead to her tragic demise—she could never attain the emotional distance that artists need if they are not to be consumed by their life and their work.


She was someone who desperately wanted to be loved and desperately needed to be in a relationship. Constantly disappointed, she filled her repertoire with torch song after torch song. And her depression and bad company led her to become more and more involved in drugs and self-destructive behavior.


But as presented here by director Asif Kapadia, and I really feel bad saying it this way, there is nothing that exceptional about Amy’s life within the context given here. Her rise and fall is pretty the same rise and fall of many, many, many, many other artists, and I’m not sure the filmmakers involved here really found a way to individualize Amy and make her her own person rather than a rather typical trope of the genre.


It’s a story you’ve heard so often before, but the real problem is that it’s also a story that is pretty much told exactly the same way it’s been told so often before.


Structurally, Kapadia has basically accumulated a number of interviews with the characters involved in Amy’s life, including Amy herself. They speak about their relationship with Amy and describe their interaction and what they thought happened.


At the same time, I never quite knew who or what to trust. In the end, I felt like I was getting a parade of unreliable narrators and I was unsure how to take much of what they said. No one seems to really want to admit guilt in anything that happened (or accuse anyone else of guilt as well) and often tended to be a bit vague as to what was going on and their part in it.


But this vagueness resulted in a movie that seemed to lack any real depth with an arc I’ve seen so often before, as well as a story in which I just kept feeling like I was missing something, that there was something more to the story that the director just couldn’t uncover.


So when all was said and done, I felt the movie ended being as vague and unreliable as the characters in it.


trainwreckIn talking about writer Amy Schumer and director Judd Apatow’s new comedy Trainwreck, I have to admit to a huge bit of embarrassment. Schumer’s character Amy (appropriately named, I suppose) has one of those bosses from hell.


And let me tell you, this boss is cruel, sociopathic and just a plain ol’ meany. But she’s also very funny. In fact, she’s hysterical.


…I had no idea it was Tilda Swinton.


No, seriously, I had no idea. I really, really didn’t. Maybe it was the more executive type hairstyle she wears, or maybe it was just the brilliance of the actor (I do think Swinton is one of the greatest today), or both, but I just didn’t recognize her.




Trainwreck has many virtues, the main one being just how downright funny it is. And not just downright funny, but downright viciously funny. And not just downright viciously funny, but downright viciously funny in a very, very witty way.


In some aspects, it’s very British in the horrible way people treat each other verbally, insulting, demeaning, condescendingly superior, but they get away with it from an audience perspective because it’s all so…witty. It seems you can have your characters say the most awful things and treat each other with the most outrageous contempt and cruelty, but if they’re witty, we won’t react with horror, we’ll laugh.


And laugh I did.

The basic premise is a rom com in which the roles are reversed. Magazine writer Amy is the Peter Pan type who sleeps around and doesn’t want to make a commitment (she refuses to let guys stay overnight) while the men in her life tend to be needy and sensitive.


Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has been done. The most notable recent example is (500) Days of Summer in which a greeting card writer falls for a woman who stays with him until he wants a more serious relationship because she doesn’t believe in love.


Schumer’s version is a bit more raucous, one might say, not as down to earth, more, well, let’s call it Judd Apatowish.


It also makes a couple of changes from the traditional rom com structure: the man isn’t an “ice queen” who has to be brought down off his pedestal (like a Katherine Heigel, Sandra Bullock and Katherine Hepburn type) and Amy has to have a drinking problem in order to help justify her promiscuity (perhaps one aspect I didn’t like is that she’s not really allowed to enjoy her sex life—in fact, her amorous activities are funny, but also written to make them some of the most depressing encounters in film of late, often with her not even remembering what happened the next day)


And the movie really does hold interest for a long period of time. Perhaps one of the main reasons for this is the incredible chemistry between the Schumer and Bill Hader who plays Aaron, her main love interest.


And it’s with Aaron that I think Schumer has achieved something very hard to do: create a nice guy who is not boring. Because Aaron is nice guy. He’s the most normal person in the movie. He’s almost written in a totally different style that anyone else.


And yet he has as strong a presence in his niceness and normalcy as Amy and the other characters in their exaggerated outrageousness.


At the same time, the movie does have some issues. It starts out as a challenge to the way most rom coms are written, but about two thirds of the way through, formula and predictability come into play as Amy has to learn some truths about life and herself and what she has to change in order to grow up.


And at that point, I’m not so much into the rom com anymore as just counting the plot twists and points that will lead to the forgone conclusion.


The ultimate ending is a very traditional finale to the genre. The “man” in the equation has to make some grand romantic gesture to prove they are worthy of the “female” in the equation.


And here, true to form, Amy pulls out all the stops to win her lover back. And it’s a cute scene.


With a very strong cast of actors whose timing is sharp as a whip in a bondage film, including Colin Farrell as Amy’s racist dad; Norman Lloyd as a forgetful senior home resident; the Interview’s Randall Park as a fellow magazine writer; Ezra Miller, who seems even younger than he was in The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an intern; Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei as stars of an indie film (perhaps the weakest written part of the movie—it’s not a particularly good parody of such fare); and LeBron James as a Downton Abbey watching version of himself and showing as much comic timing as the experts in their film.


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