Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Trainwreck: My Life As An Idoit - Trainwreck A Near Miss

Trainwreck: My Life As An Idoit - Jeff (Seann William Scott) is a young man aging fast as he stumbles through a life muddled by severe ADD, dyslexia (hence the title), tourette syndrome and a loving mother and stepfather who solve his problems with a checkbook so that he never has to grow up. Based on The Little Yellow Bus, a memoir by comedian Jeff Nichols, Trainwreck's closing credits feature Nichols killing with his stand-up act at Caroline's while the text explains that he finally earned his merchant marine license. As the only reviewer with a merchant marine license and a dozen appearances at Caroline's, I wish I could say I loved this movie, but despite a story with tremendous potential and a fine cast, the film misses as both comedy and drama.

The core of the drama is Jeff's successful battle with his disabilities to find a niche as a comedian and construction worker and make a real life for himself, one that includes romance and independence. Most of the time Jeff's problems show up only as bad decisions with disastrous consequences, but two scenes delve a little deeper into his synapses. The film opens with Jeff buying a yellow shirt on his way to a job interview, then fleeing the interview because he's obsessed with the fact that his shirt isn't white like everyone else's. The whole scene, last second purchase, maniacal interaction with store clerk, inner turmoil leading to flight at the interview - captures both the reality of Jeff's disabilities and the resulting humor. A later scene demonstrates Jeff's complete inability to handle daily life, as the need to perform a sequence of basic tasks - find paycheck, open account and deposit check, find phone bill, pay phone bill, call Mom's accountant about parking tickets - creates confusion and panic. These two scenes show what could have been, but Jeff's affair with the beautiful Lynn (Gretchen Mol), his career in stand-up (which requires booking gigs and consistently showing up on time - not just developing an act), his dream job (literally) in construction and his maritime captains license all seem to appear by magic. Whatever happened to Jeff Nichols in real life, on-screen Jeff never really grapples with his problems, gets help and learns to deal with them, he just skips straight to the relatively happy ending, leaving the drama with a major whole in the middle.

Trainwreck has tremendous potential as comedy, and the writers and director understand this, but the film never recaptures the balance that produced successful comedy in the opening "yellow shirt" scene. Jeff hones his stand-up act at AA meetings, although he has been sober for a decade and seems more interested in an audience than the program. This brilliant premise captures one fundamental of humor - Jeff gets laughs at AA when he is honest, even if he is honest about tragedy - but instead of using the AA meetings to showcase a few minutes of Nichol's best stuff, Trainwreck sticks to long-winded stories that got few laughs in the screening. Disasters that could have produced a strong element of farce, a sunken yacht and a family home burnt to the ground, are presented without effective comic set-up or timing. They generate empathy for Jeff and his family, but they just don't produce any laughs.

Despite the potential and the cast, As Good As News can't recommend Trainwreck. We can recommend that you see Jeff Nichols at a comedy club near you.


Anonymous said...

I liked it. Ok, so I didn´t knew who Jeff Nichols was and still I don´t know his best material. But this is a pretty good comedy. With a little bit of marketing it can become a success. Pablo (Buenos Aires, Argentina).

Anonymous said...

I loved this movie, I find it to be more of a dark comedy. This reviewer totally missed the point of the movie and the feel they were going for. I'm going to recommend it to a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

"...on-screen Jeff never really grapples with his problems, gets help and learns to deal with them, he just skips straight to the relatively happy ending, leaving the drama with a major whole in the middle."

Who says he needed to deal with his problems to do stand-up or his construction job? Could it be assumed, if one did not read Nichols' book, that he simply began a career in stand-up while still a victim of his disorders? At the end of his stand-up he tells a lady in the audience that she may put her New Balance shoes back on. This would indicate that he still has a problem. Do we really need all the details spoon fed to us? Apparently, some people do.

Michael H said...

Yes, Jeff still has a problem. Some might be treated with medication, but you don't cure the kind of problems Jeff has, you develop coping strategies.

This film has not a single scene in which Jeff learns something about himself and his disabilities and uses the knowledge to begin coping with his problems. If the drama is "Jeff overcomes disabilities to lead a productive life" then the film needs to show some of the process, not jump from disasters to triumphs with no expiation. Every detail? Not needed. Enough of the story to build dramatic conflict, needed and missing.

Anonymous said...

This film was actually very funny, sad and frustrating to watch.I enjoyed it alot. If people want something "deeper and more probing" I suggest they go to the library and get a medical journal or a huge book written by a proffessor in brain surgery or something. This was a film. Not a documentary! Get a sense of humour and enjoy this film!!!!

Michael H said...

Glad you liked it. No one here asked for "deeper and more probing", but when you have a situation with comic potential, give us something funny.