‘Trainwreck’ Derails Its Own Feminist Potential

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Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean star in "Unexpected."

Credit: Courtesy of Film Arcade

(WOMENSENEWS)– Under the glib direction of Judd Apatow "Trainwreck," opening July 17, feels like a turn-around-is-fair-play sequel to his male-centric comedies such as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." But while the film puts the bad girl antics and social irreverence of Amy Schumer–its writer and star–on the express track to commercial success, it derails its feminist appeal. The movie transports Schumer, the trending comedian, to the big screen to play Amy (her character’s name, too). As a staffer at a men’s magazine Amy drinks and talks like a (stereotypical) sailor and loves lusty one-night stands but shuns commitment. This is great stuff for Schumer, who has won fans by spoofing on sexual stereotypes and social norm on her hit TV skit show "Inside Amy Schumer." But watch out. Assigned to profile a top sports surgeon (Bill Hader), Amy finds herself treading the strange waters of genuine physical and emotional attraction, and it changes her life, if not her ballsy sense of humor. Schumer’s shtick is funny enough, some even hilarious. But ultimately it plays like a fairytale fantasy about how one independent, free-spirited, self-starting but emotionally challenged woman finds her way into conventional familial happiness with a man who transforms her into her better self. In her final moments on screen she is nothing more than a cheerleading stereotype of girlie glamor. "Trainwreck" is another indication that Hollywood equates the feminist agenda for equality in moviemaking with making movies that capture the women’s "niche" audience, who are really 51 percent of moviegoers. The film is full of laughs, but raises some serious questions about the satirical exploitation of stereotypes in representing women on screen.

Other July 17 Openers

"The Stanford Prison Experiment" has only one character who represents the voice of reason and weighs in on the side of ethics and accountability. She is Dr. Christina Maslach and she is also the film’s only female character, beautifully portrayed by Olivia Thirlby. The film’s almost all-male narrative is based on a true story about an infamous psychological experiment conducted at Stanford University in which students were cast to play prisoners and correctional officers in a strictly enforced prison setting for a period of time. The film employs actors–Billy Crudup, for one –but it follows the experiment in documentary-style, showing how the recruits choose which side they wished to serve and then play out their assigned roles with devastating results. As the recruits embrace the reality of the simulation, they become increasingly volatile and aggressive. The professor in charge chooses to observe rather than interfere. The film is a highly dramatic representation of what happens when one group of people has complete control over another. It’s a must-see.

"Lila and Eve" stars Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez as two grieving mothers whose children were the victims of drive-by shootings. The duo teams up to seek justice when it becomes clear to them that the police are doing nothing to solve the crimes. Toting guns, the women take to the streets of Atlanta, determined to find the criminals and extract revenge. Although the plot may seem familiar, the twists in Pat Gilfillan’s femme-centric film–along with well-developed characters–will keep you thoughtfully engaged. Davis and Lopez work well together, but Davis’ tension-filled performance is more compelling and memorable. Right on, Viola Davis! The film is a good guilt-free fantasy for anyone seeking revenge!

"Ardor" gives us another damsel in distress. It puts Alicia Braga and Gael Garcia Bernal at the center of good guys vs. bad guys scenario in which he strives to protect her from land grabbers who are determined to seize her family’s terrain and the surrounding land. Set in Argentina’s rain forest, the film’s narrative slogs slowly through dense and untamed jungle. It sparks from time to time with gunfights and builds to an elaborate final battle worthy of an old-fashioned spaghetti western. Story highlights include a steamy – if predictable – romance between the two principals, with Kai (Garcia Bernal) protecting Vania (Braga) from the bad guys. Braga and Garcia Bernal are always wonderfully intriguing, but this film doesn’t do justice to their talents.

"Irrational Man," Woody Allen’s latest film, stars Joaquin Phoenix as Abe, a suicidal philosophy professor at a backwater college. Two things change this life: his encounters with two women–Jill (Emma Stone) and Rita (Parker Posey) – and an unexpected existential experience. No spoilers here, just live with the mystery of anticipation. Strong performances by Stone, Posey and Phoenix enhance Allen’s typically quirky script – this one laden with quotes from the great philosophers — and somewhat self-conscious direction.

Already Playing

"Caffeinated," which opened July 14, is a documentary by filmmakers Hanh Nguyen and Vishal Solanki about the beverage that few of us can do without. It is a fascinating foray into the world of small production coffee growers, most of whom, as it turns out, are women. It shows how coffee commerce impacts their lives, how the beans are processed and make their way into the hands of specialty roasters, and the place of coffee and coffee salons in history and modern times. Densely packed with information, the film is crafted to satisfy coffee addicts’ thirst for knowledge about their beverage of choice, and to entice novice drinkers to try new brews.

Stay tuned for more July openers next week.

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