With some help from Judd Apatow, Amy Schumer turned her screenplay for Trainwreck into a movie that earned $30.2 million in its opening weekend.
It is not just popular in the box office, but on social media as well. Deadline notes, somewhat breathlessly:
The social media universe for the film stands at 101.M inclusive of 65.7M on Facebook and 33.6M on Twitter per RelishMix. #Trainwreck Twitter hashtags hovered around 1,000 all week and swung up to 5k by last Thursday.
So people are talking about it, and they are influenced by the messages it sends out. I know this because I saw the movie with a group of people, and the content of the film was the subject of conversation for another 45 minutes after it ended, as well as on social media.
The woman sitting next to me in the theater was older, she looked like she was in her mid-50s. And she was there with a man. I don't know what his reaction was, but she was erupting in laughter fairly frequently - along with me and the rest of the theater.
When it was over, we actually clapped.
Humor is a subjective thing. But if you ask me, and as a friend noted, the funniest parts are where Amy is clearly just being herself. (The main character is also named "Amy.") They are the scenes where Amy interacts with other people, particularly men and particularly men who are not as intelligent as she is.
The most dramatic scenes, the tear-jerkers, are the ones where she spends time with her dad. Although to the rest of the world he's not much more than a jerk, to Amy he is the smartest person in any room, and he clearly cares about and understands her.
But Apatow's influence is there, too. And although one can never know which parts of a movie can be attributed to one maker versus the other, we do know that he played a part especially in the end of the movie.
Apatow has called the ending "a way for her to evolve," a way to allow the audience to "feel something deeply" and "have an emotion other than laughing." (Variety, July 17, 2015)
Without giving it away, what it looked like to me was "fat, oversexed Amy" made palatable to a mainstream audience. In Freudian terms, "castrating."
Amy's character has a voracious appetite for life, literally - as symbolized by sex and food.
(Note that her physical size is rather ordinary for American women, but she is constantly presented as somehow "buxom," as opposed to the anorexic images we are constantly told are ideal.)
But Amy's appetites are shameful. She "stuffs her face"; she over-drinks - my goodness, wine at lunch?
And we see her shamefulness explicitly. (One has to wonder, is it really necessary to be so explicit? Or are we supposed to be excited by her shame? Of course.)
In the placement of a highly intelligent, ordinarily neurotic, slightly overweight and curious young writer in a variety of humiliating sexual situations, watching Trainwreck feels like an extended episode of another Apatow vehicle, Girls, with Schumer in the place of Lena Dunham.
Another cardboard character representing the adorable bad girl. "Tsk, tsk," we say, even as we can't turn our eyes from the screen, from the most intimate parts of someone else's body, displayed before us to gawk at and dissect.
Portrayals like this - the plastic parts, the lack of nuance - are part of why women still suffer from sexism in the workplace.
For the film contrasts Amy, the obviously "broken" sister, with her counterpart, the better-adjusted one, as measured by her maternal instincts and her capacity to love a man who represents stability and family life.
It is 2015, but Amy's sister, this paragon of womanhood, has no visible career outside the home.
Is it a coincidence that she is prettier than Amy, and thin? That she is satisfied fully by her pregnancy? And that she is coupled with "Tom," an overweight, nondescript man who bears a striking resemblance to Judd Apatow himself?
Amy's sister is not a "city girl," no, she lives in suburbia. She's a retro 1950s fantasy in almost every way.
Meanwhile, Amy's boss, a successful "career woman," is a shrewish, inhuman bitch. When Amy experiences a tragedy, the woman says: "The best way to grieve is to not do it."
The boss has no respect for Amy's private life, she is temperamental to the point of being irrational - shades here of the boss in The Devil Wears Prada - and she uses men as sexual objects.
In short, the boss is evil, representing the worst combination of stereotypical male and female traits.
This is not to put down Judd Apatow. The truth is, I enjoy his projects a lot, and there are some feminist messages to be gleaned from them.
What I worry about are the unconscious sexist messages that people, male and female take away from his movies. I worry that this movie will only serve to reinforce stereotypes about "normal" female behavior.
In a world where sports figures are regularly associated with rape ("jock culture") and domestic violence, the social media amplifying effect in the sports community is a real concern. Again, from Deadline:
Trainwreck got some tubthumping from castmember, WWE wrestler John Cena who counts 37M FB fans and 7M Twitter followers, Cleveland Cavaliers NBA star LeBron James’ 21M FB and 22M Twitter, Schumer’s 1.4M Twitter fans and 851K FB fans, as well as Apatow’s 1.24M Twitter followers.
Some have said to me, "You read too deeply into popular culture," "You take it too seriously," "Really, it's just entertainment."
But popular culture is America's civic commons, and it is the gathering place for the world. As traditional institutions associated with values development hold less and less sway, a vaccuum has sprung up. Advertising, mass entertainment and social media have expanded their influence accordingly.
The answer to disturbing messages broadcast over the popular airwaves is not the dismissal of the speaker's concerns. Nor is it censorship or limitation on the art itself.
Rather, we ought to talk about these things. We ought to have an intelligent conversation.
And as we have that talk amongst ourselves, as respectful members of a community of peers, I'd really like to bring up the subject of that mannequin you see in the cover photo of this post.
It stares at me, along with three or four others, every time I walk out to get a coffee.
I don't know why I have to look at that. The two-dimensional woman, the one who only exists as plastic, to serve as decoration for somebody else's personal experience.
I understand that women are better-looking, on the whole, than men. I know that there's a market in selling this.
But women, as human beings, deserve better than to be ornamented and given back to the world as plastic.
As fellow parents, as workers, and as people, we have a lot to do. We're half the planet.
We ought to be treated as real, equal human beings while we're doing it.
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by me.