During my recent vacation to America, I went to see Trainwreck. Trainwreck is a romantic comedy starring Amy Schumer as Amy, a promiscuous writer for a men’s magazine, and Bill Hader as Dr Aaron Connors, a clean-cut sports doctor. Due to her strong dislike of sports and her vocal opposition to an article about a sports doctor, Amy is assigned the article and other the course of the next few months, a romantic relationship blossoms between the two.
While not the biggest fan of the genre (please don’t kill me but the ‘pinnacle’ of modern rom-coms, Love Actually, sucked) I loved Trainwreck. It combined sharp humour and relatable characters with down to Earth observations about the nature of relationships and a straight forward, easy to follow plot. From my viewing, it is clear to see why Trainwrecked has a rating of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes (Love Actually languishes at 63% in comparison.)
However, this isn’t just a simple review of a good movie. As the title says, I argue that Trainwreck is one of the best romantic comedies of all time. While the comedy is rauchy, sharp and makes great use of the film’s R rating while remaining genuinely funny, it’s the film’s romance that I think makes it stand out. Doing away with cliches of the genre, Trainwreck shows the formation, maintainence, breakdown and reconciliation of a typical relationship. As a student of psychology, I’m going to break this down stage by stage.
Formation: The nature of how Amy and Aaron begin their relationship closely reflects the Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory (Byrne and Clore, 1970). This theory states that a relationship is formed between people who find it satisfying or gratifying to be with. In the case of Trainwreck‘s love story, I’m not talking about the temporary sexual gratification of their first encounter, I’m referring to the days and weeks after the event, in which we learn that Amy, while nervous, is beginning to enjoy a monogamous relationship and Aaron is finding happiness and security in something other than his job. These inital feelings are bolstered by events such as Aaron gaining Amy’s father’s approval. Overall, Amy and Aaron form a strong basis for a healthy relationship, despite the ‘unconventional’ instigation of their relationship.
Maintainence: As Amy and Aaron’s relationship progresses, they learn to make sacrifices and comprimises for the relationship. This behaviour is defined and explained by the Social Exchange Theory (Thibaut and Kelly, 1959). The theory states that for a relationship to be successfully maintained, its ‘profits’ must outweigh its ‘losses’- in other words, the relationship should provide more than it takes away. While Amy and Aaron do fight, which is normal and healthy, their relationship does show signs of successful maintainence. Amy gives up heavy drinking, using pot (mostly) and casual sex to be with Aaron and in return she gets a new outlook on life, a secure and happy relationship and a renewed sense of purpose. Once again, Trainwreck presents a relationship that shows the balance needed to ensure a healthy relationship. My one criticism at this point is mainly about the theory itself- I am not the biggest fan of social exchange as the theory looks at the profit/loss ratio in terms of quantity rather quality. Sure, a partner may have lost more things than they have gained but the things they lose are not as significant or meaningful as the things they gain.
Breakdown: As this is a romantic-comedy, everything has to come crashing down around the couple at some point. While Trainwreck‘s break up doesn’t fit in any theory of relationship breakdown particularly well, it still shows a break-up many people can relate to. Amy suffers from the accumulation effect, meaning that a number of smaller problems build up over a short period of time. This leads to a fight between Amy and Aaron and after Aaron suggests that they ‘take a break’, Amy ends the relationship. Relationships are hard and sometimes, our problems overwhelm us and we end up doing something rash. This is a scenario many people can relate to.
Reconciliation: Since only the cruelest of romantic-comedies would leave things on a sad note, Trainwreck does come with a happy ending. We see scenes of Amy falling back into her old habits and Aaron going back to the solitary work-oriented life he used to lead. This goes on until Amy’s nephew convinces her to try and get Aaron back. This reonciliation is just as realistic as any other part of the film. There is no relationship-ruining wedding crash and no over the romantic gesture (Well…there is a dance number but it works within in the film). It is a plain and simple reuniting of a couple the audience is routing for.
Trainwreck presents a relationship that many audience members can relate to. It’s real and it’s heartfelt and that’s what people want to see. Granted, we still want escapism when we go to see a movie but we don’t want to be so far removed from the world of the film that we remember that we are just people watching a movie and that’s why Trainwreck is one of the best rom-coms ever.