Can Amy Schumer and Trainwreck save romantic comedy?

Amy Schumer Trainwreck

This weekend, rom-com lovers everywhere can rejoice as Amy Schumer continues her reign of glory with the release of Trainwreck on July 17. Directed by Judd Apatow and written by/starring Schumer, the trailers for the film promise romance, binge-drinking and LeBron James, but also inspire questions alongside the laughs: why has it been so long since a good old fashioned, blockbuster rom-com filled theaters? And can Amy Schumer be our new Meg Ryan?

The last decade has seen a decline in the age of the classic, boy-meets-girl rom-com popularized by classics like When Harry Met Sally or Jerry Maguire. Instead, the commercial sphere has been occupied by ensemble comedies or love stories with an abnormal x-factor. Think of romantic comedies from the past five years: you’ve got Bridesmaids and Crazy Stupid Love on the one hand, and love stories with a twist on the other: The Fault in Our Stars and Fifty Shades of Grey—if there’s not a big ensemble cast with lots of funny, distracting characters, then someone always has to be a vampire, time traveller or dying. Harry and Sally could meet now, sure, but to make over 50 million dollars at the box office, Harry would need to be a time-travelling alien and Sally would have to be heavily into bondage.

It would be great to blame money-hungry film studios for taking rom-coms away, but studios operate on ticket sales, and as an audience, people of my generation have not been coming out for the sweet, human relationship-focused stories of the ‘80s or ‘90s. Films like One Day, The Five Year Engagement, Focus all either failed to or barely made back their budgets, and the former king of romantic comedy Cameron Crowe’s Aloha opened to horrendous reviews last month. Like Schumer’s Trainwreck character Amy, it seems we’ve become averse to sentimentality, perhaps because modern relationships have evolved far past older, traditional demonstrations of romance.

In the modern dating sphere, many prefer connecting over devices rather than in person—we find people to date via apps like Tinder and Hinge, and messages of affection via heart-eyed emojis. In a world where expressions of love can be boiled down to pushing a button, there’s not really a place for characters like Richard Gere’s in Pretty Woman. A limo and flowers? Really? Like, why didn’t he just text her? In this frame of mind, all the classic moments of rom-coms past feel irrelevant—in the landscape of casual dating where “hanging out” is the new “going steady,” lines of dialogue like “You complete me,” spoken by an earnest Jerry Maguire just make us laugh.

However, this theory falls apart when you consider the success of films like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey. Somehow, when amazingly corny declarations of love come from a vampire—Edward Cullen, “You are my life now,” anybody?—they’re easier to stomach, perhaps because when a fantastical element is introduced to a romantic film, be it BDSM or a dystopian future, it elevates its characters to existing in a world outside of our own, a place where it’s safe to say and act on what you actually feel.

I believe part of my generation still wants to be romanced at the theatre, and that there’s hope for the future of the romantic comedy in films like Trainwreck, a film about two human, somewhat healthy people falling clumsily in love. Schumer’s portrayal of Amy, after all, lives within our emotion-wary society: for example in the trailer, when Schumer’s friend (Vanessa Bayer) learns that Hader is calling right after their date she reacts in a horrified manner. “Hang up,” she urges. “He must be sick or something.”

We live in a cynical world, as Maguire once said, but perhaps the way to make us comfortable again with unfiltered romance is first to watch firsthand, via Schumer, how uncomfortable it makes us, and allow her with her cripplingly funny honest to usher in a new romantic comedy realism.

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