Two Romantic Comedies: Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015) and The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

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The latest release from the Judd Apatow empire opens tomorrow here in Seattle, written by and starring comedian Amy Schumer and directed by Apatow himself. Schumer plays a magazine writer with commitment issues and a fondness for wine and weed. Much to her surprise, she falls for a dweeby sports surgeon (Bill Hader) and must choose between growing up and reforming her ways or losing a swell guy. The film thus deftly flips the gender roles of a typical Hollywood romantic comedy, as it’s been practiced in film and television of the past 30 years or so. That reversal is the motor of the funniest parts of the film: Schumer’s assertiveness with her boyfriends (an agonizing attempt at dirty talk from John Cena) and Hader’s heartfelt exchanges with his athlete friends (LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire). Filled with the surreal-improv style comedy from the supporting players that defines the Apatow brand (it’s no surprise that the clear winner this time is Tilda Swinton), the film is dragged down by the shambolic, disjunctive approach to narrative that has also come to define Apatow’s work.

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Christmas in July (Preston Sturges, 1940)

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Tonight the Seattle Art Museum kicks off its latest series of 35mm film presentations, this one devoted to writer-director Preston Sturges, who with a handful of masterpieces in the early and mid-1940s brought the screwball comedy era to its magnificent conclusion. The museum is presenting six of his films, playing every Thursday night through August 13. We’ll be covering them all here at Seattle Screen Scene, along with recording an episode of the They Shot Pictures podcast devoted to Sturges, which we should have up in two weeks or so.

First up is the least well-known, unfairly I think, Christmas in July, in which Dick Powell plays a wannabe adman who is tricked by some fellow workers into believing his submission in a coffee company’s slogan contest has won the $25,000 grand prize. A series of misunderstandings gets him the big check, a promotion and an engagement, and before the truth can come out he’s showered his whole neighborhood with gifts and toys. Deftly sketching the generational layers of the mid-century immigrant class system, Sturges gives as subtle a portrait of the disasters and fantasies provoked by capitalism as you’ll find in Hollywood, a far cry from the sentimentality and privileged condescension of his future avatar John L. Sullivan. The tone is delicately balanced between screwball and melancholy, the warm loneliness of Powell and his girl (Ellen Drew) dreaming on a rooftop leavened by the ten minutes it takes him to explain his slogan to her (“It’s a pun” is his hopeless refrain). Sturges would never again be this relaxed.

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