How “Trainwreck” Tricks Men Into Laughing

Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” is the funniest movie I have seen in a long time. And I’m not alone; from mom & pop blogs to the big critics, the film is earning accolades left and right. I’m sure it will be a contender for the big end-of-the-year awards.

The big story here, of course, is Schumer.

In the social justice era, people take notice of a comedian like Schumer, and her brand of brave, no-hold barred, body-conscious humor. The edge she honed on her TV show, “Inside Amy Schumer” is cutting sharper than ever in “Trainwreck. Schumer has no problem being totally frank about the problems faced by the ambitious young woman in today’s world.

Schumer’s character sleeps around, drinks, smokes and absolutely hates the idea of family, as represented by her sister’s dopey husband and child (the pair of which show up from time to time, constantly smiling and basically as cartoons).

This is how Schumer, and by extension, the film as a whole, earns the trust of the female millennial audience. Schumer’s character also hates sports, which is ironic, since the movie uses sports as a clever way to appeal to male audiences.

“Trainwreck” was written by Schumer, but was directed by Judd Apatow. Apatow brings his aesthetic to the project in the form of a myriad of sports star and celebrity cameos, introduced naturally into the plot as Amy begins dating a prominent sports doctor, Aaron Connors (played by Bill Hader).

When the two main characters first meet, LeBron James pops in to Doctor Connors’ office, looking for a lost pair of sunglasses. After a brief chat, he pops out. Aaron asks Amy if she knew who that was. Clearly out of her element, she bluffs: “Yeah, a basketball player, right?”

“That was LeBron James, he’s kind of THE basketball player,” Aaron returns. (LeBron recurs throughout the movie, doing an entertaining, if stilted, turn as Aaron’s best friend).

Take a look at the humor in this scene, and you’ll understand how “Trainwreck” has managed to become such a demographic-spanning hit.

The humor works on several levels:

  1. Amy proves oblivious to the celebrity of LeBron. This gives the men in the audience a chance to laugh at the female ignorance of sports, while it gives women a laugh at the hero worship men give these figures
  2. LeBron proves to be frugal and a fan of “downtown abbey”: this invert’s LeBron’s societally-given role as the alpha-male sports star, a subversion which can appeal to men who watch sports and women who just know of them.
  3. Amy says she doesn’t understand why we worship sports stars for playing children’s games: This scores big points with women who feel the same way (My girlfriend started silently clapping at this point in the film), as well as creating a moment of dissonance as Aaron mirrors the male audience by refusing to accept that viewpoint.

This clever back-and-forth recurs throughout the film: a joke is teed up which appeals to the female demographic, and then the incredulous response is designed to draw laughs from the dates. This call-and-response maintains a perfect rhythm, keeping the laughs coming almost nonstop.

The film also gets some mileage out of reversing gender roles for comedic effect, especially with its celebrity cameos, LeBron James and John Cena. Both LeBron and Cena play subverted versions of the alpha-male. Cena is your gym-rat bro stereotype extended to the point of absurdity. Homoerotic undertones linger underneath almost everything he does, although he never sees it. Asked to talk dirty during sex, he is afraid, and eventually ends up spouting off about protein and green drinks, in what must be the most bizarre sex scene of the year, at least until it’s topped by a different pairing, later in the film.

LeBron James, despite making, colloquially said, more money than God, is extremely frugal throughout the movie, at one point launching into an unprovoked monologue of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” lyrics. LeBron also fills the typical “concerned best friend” role, which, in media, is most often seen on the female side of the relationship rather than the male side.

Cena, LeBron, and the other athletes are in “Trainwreck” to appeal to men.

It’s simple as that. But “Trainwreck” isn’t content to simply pander with a few celebrities, it uses these recognizable faces to play tricks with audience expectations and societal stereotypes, turning what could have been a pandering play into sharp, witty and all-around comedy.

The movie deserves its success. Go see it, if you haven’t already.

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