In the movie Trainwreck, the comedian Amy Schumer stars as a reckless but successful magazine editor who has been drinking for love in all the wrong places. Like Schumer’s sketch-comedy series Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central), Trainwreck contains its share of off-color humor. (“You dress him like that just so no one else wants to have sex with him? That's cool,” she asks her sister about her husband.) She may not be everyone’s cup of tea; critics deride her work as self-gratifying, crude, and offensive. But her fans call her a brilliant, courageous feminist leader. Whatever one makes of her work, there’s no denying that she is unapologetically herself. It’s not a shtick. Schumer wants to challenge the ways in which we talk about feminism—as loaded a term as that may be.

As my friends and I left the theater after seeing the movie, all we could say was how much we love Schumer. Her voice is refreshing in a time when the culture seems to see feminism through one or the other of two opposing lenses. There are those who believe that feminism means that women should be able to do anything they want sexually without any criticism or fear of consequences – “if men can do it, so can we.” Suggest otherwise and you’re keeping women down. And then there are those who believe that by policing our own behavior, we can flourish as true women. “True empowerment” means being modest, thinking about consequences, and avoiding risky behavior.

In the movie, Amy drinks and sleeps around and explicitly avoids seeking a long-term relationship—at least at first.

When she finally decides that she does want one, she changes her ways (if slightly) and gets the guy. Happy ending.

Some have criticized the arc of Amy’s story. They complain about the easy moments of emotional clarity that lead to this ending (“I’m broken,” she says), worried that Trainwreck is a moral treatise against alcohol and sex. But these complaints overlook something important: Trainwreck is a story written by Amy, about Amy. She is not making a moral argument; she is just presenting who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be. If partying and sleeping around is making you happy and getting you what you want and the relationships you want, she might cheer you on. She might also tell you about how that worked out for her. Not in a condescending, “One day you’ll see the light” way, and not in a falsely supportive “You do you!” way, but in an empowering “You are completely capable of making your own decisions” way. And those decisions, the film makes clear, do have consequences.

That’s why this movie works. Yes, Amy is a mess. Yes, she calls herself broken. Yes, she gets the happy ending only when she realizes that she can’t hold commitment and intimacy at bay with booze and boys anymore. Yet her transformation, if you can call it that, is not a call for other women to put down the bottle and join a convent. Her message is not that women will be happy only when we find someone who disapproves of our behavior and makes us change. Rather, Schumer wants women to ask themselves the question she herself took too long to answer: At what point does our behavior, trainwreck or not, hurt our ability to be who we ought to be?

I have been telling anyone who will listen that they need to see this movie because—and I’m almost embarrassed to admit it—it was inspiring for me. Amy’s search for contentment leads her to drink less and to settle down, and maybe mine will too. Maybe I will discover that, as a millennial with a very short attention span, my behavior is not actually liberating as much as it is keeping me from being who I want to be. Or maybe not. And that is OK. But we should be open to the possibility that calling women’s behavior reckless and counterproductive is not anti-feminist or hurtful. Trainwreck may not accurately reflect my life or the kinds of choices I make on a daily basis (I don’t really see myself as a trainwreck—at least not yet), but the film depicts one person’s search to be a genuine and honest woman. That’s the kind of feminism I identify with. Amy’s happy ending does not take away from the power of her progressive ladyjerk performances. Sometimes, people who are true to themselves end up happy. 

Caroline Belden is a Commonweal intern and a student at St. Louis University.

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