Have you ever wondered what would happen if the conservative fantasy of taking over the culture came to pass? What if one major movie studio, and a few popular actors, comedians, writers, directors were conservative?
Producers would still have to work within the current social reality of a sexually promiscuous, morally untethered, post Judeo-Christian culture, of course. Audiences don’t pay for heavy handed, feel bad lectures. Where would you start?
Who would guess that Trainwreck, written by, and starring Amy Schumer (comedy’s current raunchy, no boundaries bad girl) and directed by Judd Apatow (bard of the pathetic stoner, off any path to responsible adulthood bromance genre) might show the way?
To be sure, the movie isn’t traditionally conservative. At all. Ms. Schumer’s character, a pretty enough, highly approachable young writer at a men’s magazine, engages in plenty of untethered sex, much of it under the influence of a great deal of alcohol or pot. Unlike the male millennial slackers Judd Apatow has depicted, she isn’t overly immersed in the pot culture. She drinks endless glasses of white wine and cocktails, and smokes pot discreetly, not socially, when she is stressed. They are anesthesia, not a lifestyle. She is pretty straightforward about the virtue of drunkenness when the plan is to sleep with a stranger. Her friends regard this as normal.
Schumer insists she likes sex. She is in a relationship she keeps “open,” with a steroid-sculpted body, who isn’t much of a conversationalist. Schumer and Apatow are good enough at what they do that there are plenty of laughs as it wears on. Still, it’s clear enough that there ought to be a little more to life. And it certainly isn’t going to come from work, where a bunch of cynical writers report to a scary, desiccated, British dragon lady editor, who has lived the sex, drugs, and rock’ n’ roll lifestyle to the fullest, and lacks any humanity or depth. (A first rate performance by the genuinely unrecognizable Tilda Swinton.)
We are to understand that Amy regards her life as normal; as good as it gets, even, because that is how she was raised. The movie opens with a flashback scene in which her father, a total jerk, is explaining to his two very young daughters why it is that he is leaving their mom. Using the analogy of a doll that the younger sister is holding, he asks them to imagine how boring life would be if they could only play with one doll, forever. He leads them in chanting the refrain, “monogamy is unrealistic.’
It’s easy enough to see how this might lead straight to a life of drinking and going home with whatever guy is around. Yet Amy’s sister seems to have avoided that. She is happily married to a man who seems dull but nice, and is raising his somewhat weird son, whom she loves, while pregnant with a child of her own.
Out of nowhere Amy is assigned to write a piece on a hot new sports medicine doctor, who treats all the biggest professional athletes of the moment. (Many of whom play themselves in the movie, better than you’d expect.)
Spoiler alert: She’s not interested in sports or the story. Still, she meets with the successful, but nerdy and awkward doctor – played by Bill Hader. They clash. She thinks that both he and the story are dull. He calls her out on some of her pretensions. But slowly and steadily they fall into a relationship, and eventually in love. He is a good man, with genuine feelings and a bias toward being nice, who helps people. (That such a catch is available, and not in the sights of a dozen other NYC women looking for husbands, is the fairy tale part of this.) She begins to see the shallowness of her work. And she begins to believe that she might actually be able to have the love, marriage and babies that she was raised to believe are “unrealistic.” For the first time she seems as if she might be heading toward happiness. And she throws out all of the alcohol and drugs in her apartment.
Finding true love and settling down is so much a part of the Hollywood script that it may seem a leap to call it a conservative movie just because of that. But the reason I walked out wondering if Schumer or Apatow were among the Hollywood crypto-conservative cadres has more to do with what came before the ending. Ms. Schumer is famous for sexually explicit humor, a kind of caustic feminism, and a certain generational outrageousness. And yet, in her maiden film, she consciously depicted every single sexual encounter of her liberated heroine as dreary and unenviable. They vary from tedious to visibly empty and frustrating. The viewer is forced to wonder why she lies there, when it’s doing nothing for her; why she goes home with someone just because he asks; and what it means when she says that she likes sex, when she clearly does not like the actual sex she manages to have. No young woman watching this movie, including the 19-year-old I was with, could walk out of the theater thinking anything about the protagonist’s lifestyle was appealing. The movie could be used as part of aversion therapy. All of that changes, of course, when she meets the good doctor, and has to figure out how to have a real relationship.
A conservative moviemaker could do worse than to depict the millennial hook-up culture as so empty that marrying a doctor and joining the suburban bourgeois looks like salvation.
Lisa Schiffren writes the Right Hook column for the New York Observer and is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.