Comedian Amy Schumer has never been more popular than she is right now, but a major test of her newfound stardom comes Friday when her new movie, “Trainwreck,” opens.
At the moment, the ascendant trajectory of her career is a fact. The third season of “Inside Amy Schumer” just finished its run on Comedy Central, and a fourth season is already confirmed. On Thursday, she was nominated for an Emmy for her work on the show in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category. She’s the scheduled opening act for Madonna at the singer’s September performances in New York City; she appears on the cover of the August issue of GQ, which features her in a lewd “Star Wars”-related pictorial called “Amy Schumer Is the Funniest Woman in the Galaxy.”
“Trainwreck” could either shore up or endanger all of these gains. It was written by Schumer and features her in her first major movie role, so if the smutty, R-rated comedy does well at the box office, it could go a long way towards turning her into a major star. If it doesn’t, it could jeopardize everything that she’s done right this year and keep her imprisoned in the dungeon of basic cable. And so far, the summer of 2015 has seen two smutty, R-rated comedies with optimistic prospects underperform.
Seth McFarlane’s foul-mouthed teddy bear sequel “Ted 2” opened on June 26 and had a $34 million opening weekend at the at the domestic box office, taking a distant third place to “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World.” The first “Ted,” on the other hand, grossed $219 million, became one of the top ten hits of 2012 and still stands today as the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time.
“Magic Mike XXL” also disappointed at the box office. It opened on July 1 and by the time the Independence Day long weekend was over, it had made a paltry $13 million. By contrast, the original “Magic Mike” took in $114 million at the domestic box office, so Channing Tatum may want to mothball his G-string and hope there’s a “23 Jump Street.”
It remains to be seen whether the weak performance of these two movies actually means anything for the genre. After all, both had the profound misfortune of sharing the multiplex with “Jurassic World” and “Inside Out,” gigantic hits each that simply may not have left much room for competition. Also, while “Magic Mike XXL” enjoyed some positive reviews, the negative critical response to “Ted 2” couldn’t possibly have helped.
Bilge Ebiri in New York Magazine’s Vulture.com decried the movie’s “lazy, opportunistic writing,” and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the movie a “comedy dead zone” and decried its “insultingly lazy hack work.”
“Trainwreck,” meanwhile, has some things going for it that may take some of the pressure off. It was directed by Judd Apatow, who has a fan base in his own right thanks to his work on such movies as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” It also has a production budget of $35 million, a pittance in a summer where the $250 million budget of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” seems normal, so it doesn’t have to break opening weekend records to recoup costs.
As far as the reviews, “Trainwreck” is sure as hell faring better than “Ted 2” did. So far, Sara Stewart of The New York Post called it “a hilarious 4-star ride,” and Jacob Hall of The New York Daily News said “this raunchy rom-com is a high-speed rail line transporting director Judd Apatow back into relevance and writer/star Amy Schumer to the top of the A-list.”
Most importantly, Schumer simply has a lot of goodwill going her way right now. That’s a good thing too, because if Schumer’s previous work is anything to go by, “Trainwreck” will earn every bit of its R rating with pervasive jokes about hangovers, bodily functions and the morning after pill. So if there is a curse plaguing the R-rated comedies of summer 2015, maybe the comedian has enough going for her to let the movie dodge it.
Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.