Trainwreck, a romantic comedy released last Thursday, is the R-rated love story of Amy (Amy Schumer) and Aaron (Bill Hader). The plot is a familiar one: Girl meets boy; boy likes girl; girl denies boy but falls for him anyway; there is some kind of conflict; and they overcome it to be together. But what makes Trainwreck different is that it's an ode to the independent woman.
From the previews, Trainwreck looked like a ridiculous romp through Amy's life. The trailer shows her stumbling back from an accidental overnight date to Staten Island, treacherously navigating the buckled sidewalk in her heels and mini skirt before throwing her hands up triumphantly on the ferry back to her magazine job in Manhattan where "You Call those Tits?"is a story that could go on the cover.
As funny as Trainwreck is — and it is at times laugh out loud, choke on your popcorn funny — what makes it an enjoyable movie to watch is that it's self-conscious. As mainstream as feminism has become in the last five years, there are still many hurdles set up by the post-feminist '90s that are almost impossible to clear out of the way. The biggest is love. Ultimately, the question Trainwreck is trying to answer isn't "how do you get a man?" but "how do you stay true to who you are while becoming dependent on another person?"
Trainwreck performed much better than it was expected to in its opening weekend, grossing $30.2 million domestically. That makes it the second biggest opening for director Judd Apatow since 2007's Knocked Up. Its audience, according to Box Office Mojo was 66% female.
In the theater where I saw Trainwreck in Washington, D.C., two showings right after one another (7:30 and 7:45) sold out completely. The theater was full of couples out on dates and groups of women. It was a theater ready and willing to cringe at some uncomfortable sex and laugh at the parody-like fake men's magazine where Amy Schumer works, but it wasn't necessarily a unified audience. When Schumer told a (rather funny) tampon joke about halfway into the movie, the man next to me ate another onion ring and shifted in his seat, obviously uncomfortable. But his wife howled with laughter.
Trainwreck is certainly a movie geared toward women. Both in its message and its plot.
Amy meets Aaron, a sports surgeon, because she is supposed to be writing a profile of for S'Nuff magazine, but their relationship quickly veers away from professional. They end up going to dinner after Amy has a panic attack, drinking, and having sex in his very lush apartment. The next day, Amy is ready to move on and put this one-night stand behind her, but Aaron (who we find out later hasn't had a girl friend in months) decides their connection shouldn't be brushed aside.
There's an uncomfortable confrontation between the two of them in a hallway; Aaron asks Amy, simply, "Do you like me?"
"Yes," she responds.
"Well I really like you. So we should be a couple." Bill Hader delivers this line with a kind of resolute deadpan that makes it seem like the most obvious thing in the world. He smirks a little behind his words, obviously satisfied. The next step for him is so clear.
But Amy stalls. "No. I have a plan…" she rebuts.
It's in scenes like this that Trainwreck shines beyond being a normal, boy-crazy romantic comedy and allows its viewers to ask harder, more complex questions about love. For Aaron's character, relationships aren't weighed down with the kind of baggage that Amy's character is weighed down with.
The movie opens with a scene of Amy as a child repeating after her father that "monogamy isn't realistic" and quickly shuffles through a range of one-night stands in her life. But Amy is also a woman, and being in a relationship as a woman carries different implications. The movie draws a stark comparison between Amy and her sister Kim (Brie Larson) who is married and living in the suburbs with a husband who wears sweaters, a young stepson, and a baby on the way.
Even in this world where Beyoncé stands on a stage in front of glowing letters that read "FEMINIST" and we are fifteen years past Pretty Woman, society still doesn't have a lot of room for alternative narratives about being a woman. Trainwreck reminds that society views women really in only two forms: Amy, the lost, single, unhappy one and Kim, the blissful traditional one.
What makes Trainwreck a great romantic comedy is how self-aware of those dynamics it is, and how willing it is to play on the traditional gimmicks of the romantic comedy genre. During a montage in which scenes of the two leads falling in love play quickly over sweet music to show time passing, Amy narrates over the images with quick commentary saying how gross it all is.
Identity isn't an easy thing to maintain as a woman who doesn't fit the molds created for her by society. She is criticized for how much she drinks, and how she dresses, and how she talks. She isn't prim and proper, but she is — as Trainwreck shows us — worthy of love anyway.
That's the thing about Trainwreck that makes it so different than so many of the rom-coms that were produced in the 2000s — it doesn't make true love and self- identity mutually exclusive.
Relationships are terrifying because they ask us to give up pieces of ourselves to make room for another human. Independence (the rallying cry of smart, talented women everywhere) becomes something that you feel more than something you perform. What becomes the cogs that bind a relationship between any two people together are the little things that make you dependent on one another. The moments that remind you that life would be worse if you were alone.
As Amy falls more and more in love with Aaron she becomes more dependent on him to help her deal with her aging father, and fight her own personal problems. He, too, becomes dependent on her.
"I act like everything in your life is stupid," Amy tells her sister through tears near the end of the movie, "But it's because I fear I can't have that for myself."
Sure, there are problems with the narrative that everyone should want to get married or even that everyone should want to sleep with one person. In addition, Trainwreck's universe is tightly confined to a world that is white, heterosexual, and Manhattan rich.
But unlike other romantic comedies, Trainwreck isn't selling marriage. It's selling love. Through Amy's story, Trainwreck reminds us over and over again that we are all worthy of love — that it is not weakness to want to be loved, it's human. And there's something unbelievably refreshing about that.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.