In Trainwreck, Amy Schumer Creates A New Rom-Com Queen

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Amy Schumer has arrived as a full-fledged movie star in Trainwreck, the comedy she wrote and stars in that opens in theaters July 17. And in crafting the main character, a magazine writer named Amy Townsend, Schumer has fully solidified a new rom-com archetype that has been in development for years now: the Trainwreck.

The Trainwreck is the rom-com's hot-mess response to the Cool Girl described by Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) in Gone Girl (2014). The Trainwreck is different from the Cool Girl as embodied by, say, Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (she loves sports! And BBQ!) because she isn't crafted for the male gaze. She has a take-me-for-what-I-am attitude, a great job, and a baller apartment. Unlike the isolated Amy Dunne, the extremely social Amy Townsend has tons of female friends. For all appearances, she’s a sex-positive woman who loves her life. “Don’t judge me,” Amy says in a voiceover when she wakes up on Staten Island after a one-night stand. No one is. We’re all commiserating and wondering what we’d do if we found ourselves in the same situation. Does Uber even go to Staten Island?

While we may think her Trainwreck status relates only to surface-level issues like drinking and one-night stands, it actually carries more emotional gravitas. Most hot-mess characters have lost a parent. Examples include Schumer's character here and Emma (Natalie Portman) in No Strings Attached (2011). Or, they never knew one of their parents, like Jamie Rellis (Mila Kunis) in Friends With Benefits (2011). The remaining parent who raised them provided a confusing example of stable intimate relationships, which translated into a lingering belief that “monogamy isn’t realistic” — the oft-repeated quote from the Trainwreck trailer.

If the character has a sibling, however, she (it’s usually a sister, used to play devil’s advocate to maximum effect) somehow got the exact opposite message from their upbringing. If the sibling isn’t already married with children, she’s in a committed relationship that’s heading toward a wedding. This compels the Trainwreck to write herself off as the black sheep of the family, even though that's not how her sister sees her at all. They'll work this out in the end; don't worry.

The protagonist's upbringing has resulted in an adult who’s fully competent in all other areas of her life: She's got a kick-ass job and swoon-worthy apartment. But, she's emotionally delinquent and scared of love and commitment. She has thus far avoided dealing with these issues by developing a series of rules for one-night stands and casual hookups. In Trainwreck, Amy never spends the night at a guy’s house, and she always has a steady rotation of men at the ready for a late-night booty text. In Friends With Benefits and No Strings Attached, Emma and Jamie both enter into what are supposed to be emotion- and commitment-free casual hookups with male friends.

The Trainwreck archetype fits into the Samantha Jones pantheon of women who don’t need a man for personal happiness. (Cheers to that.) But, since these are rom-coms, a man must come along, and when he does, he throws the Trainwreck into a tizzy because inevitably, he wants to pursue a monogamous relationship with her. The two swap traditional gender stereotypes on their path to coupledom: He’s the one who wants to hold hands in public, delete old hookups’ numbers from their phones, or (perish the thought) spoon.

The Trainwreck finds herself falling in love, which terrifies her. She goes through a range of emotions akin to the stages of grief. They’re not really in a monogamous relationship, she’s still hooking up with other people and doesn’t feel like it’s a betrayal at all (denial). Clearly, there’s something wrong with this man because he likes her; why won’t he say what his problem is (anger)? You get the idea. Every fight they have starts out over some insignificant issue and ends with him asking why she’s such a mess who refuses to be loved. Subtle these romantic comedies are not.

Finally, the Trainwreck is pushed too far out of her comfort zone by this person who’s forcing her to confront lingering emotional intimacy issues from her childhood. Add to this the fact that the man in question has usually met her friends and family members by this point, and they, too, are pushing for her to change and grow in a way that would allow her to accept the love they all know she deserves (something Schumer addressed in a recent interview with The New York Times).

At first, she responds by returning to her old ways. Then, she retreats to her fortress of solitude (there’s that comfy abode again). Finally, she realizes that there’s a personal and emotional benefit to this relationship, and she is willing to make some changes to pursue it. Nevertheless — and most importantly — the Trainwreck will never apologize or regret her past behavior. Her refusal to be ashamed of anything that’s already happened or spend one more second doing anything besides moving forward with her life is her most defining trait.

What do you do after experiencing an actual train wreck? You pick up the pieces and move on, cracks and all. That’s what Amy Schumer’s new rom-com archetype does, too, and we wouldn’t want her any other way. Your move, Cool Girl.

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