What Makes a Star a Star? (Or the Curious Case of Amy Schumer)

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I have never really been a fan of Amy Schumer. Her comedy just doesn’t do it for me, though I know I’m in something of a minority, here. Lots of people like her, and that’s great, she’s just never been my particular brand of bourbon. Comedy, like most things, is subjective, and I’ve always found her to be a little pandering and self-conscious. Mind you, I don’t begrudge her success, because I don’t begrudge anyone’s success, especially when they’re engaging in a creative endeavor. Being creative is hard enough, but finding success whilst doing it is its own kind of challenging, so anyone who finds a way has my admiration, if not my respect.

My feelings about Schumer probably had something to do with my lack of enthusiasm for Trainwreck when it came out. I thought the movie was perfectly fine, had its moments, but was really just a slightly raunchy version of a standard, overly long romantic comedy. I appreciated the fact that Universal was allowing it to see the light of day at all, of course, since studios have stopped making romantic comedies, but otherwise, kind of shrugged my shoulders and offered as my one-word review, “Meh.” I also thought that, while Schumer wrote the script, the movie could have starred pretty much anyone, and that it wasn’t necessarily her charms that led to the film’s success, but rather the fact that it was a female-driven movie released in the summer, thus offering counter-programming to the enormous number of female moviegoers looking for just such a thing, a thesis that continues to be proven over and over again, like with Bad Moms last year.

The thing is, I saw it with my sister and sister-in-law, and they absolutely loved it. There was something about it that really hit them where they lived, and it wasn’t just the fact that they were seeing a normal-looking woman as the center of a movie and being the object of attractive men. They genuinely liked her, which made me reconsider my preconceived notion that her cinematic appeal was limited. Seeing the movie didn’t change my mind about that at all, but within two minutes of the credits rolling, that thinking was rebuked with extreme prejudice by a pair of strong, opinionated women whom I love and, of course, fear. Thus, I conceded that her appeal is genuine, and while it doesn’t reach me, personally, it clearly does millions of others, and that fact has to be acknowledged and respected.

Which brings me to the mediocre opening this weekend of her second starring vehicle, Snatched, co-starring Goldie Hawn, making her first appearance on the big screen in 15 years. The movie cost $42 million to make and did about $17.5 million its opening weekend, with about $3 million already collected from foreign climes. That predicts a final number of about $60 million here and, possibly, cracking the $100 million barrier in worldwide dollars. Not awful, but not exactly barn-burning either, and even it if makes that latter number, it’s still going to be a ways from profitability.

In the interest of science and professionalism, I sat through the movie myself yesterday, and, really, this will not be on my list of the year’s best films. Or this week’s favorites, for that matter, but then, I’m not the target audience. That consists of women, both older and younger — primarily older — many of whom were at the screening through which I struggled. The question this led me to ask was, were these women here to see Amy? Or Goldie? The Oscar-winning Hawn’s absence from the big screen didn’t come off in her performance. She did the same classic Goldie Thing she’s always done, without any trace of rust, and my audience ate it up, which helped me to answer the question. It also led me to ask another one, that being, is Amy Schumer a real box office draw?

It’s obviously too soon to ask whether or not she’s a movie star. She’s made two movies, and while the first one was a bonafide hit, I am still skeptical that she was the only reason. I think director Judd Apatow had something to do with it, and, honestly, I think co-star Lebron James helped, too, along with the fact that, again, it was a studio-made romantic comedy. That, a movie geared toward female viewers, is not something so easily dismissed. The fact that Snatched did okay this weekend — not great, but no outright failure, either — reinforces this, and I think it would have been true if any number of other actresses played Schumer’s role.

Which brings us back to that question about Schumer’s cinematic appeal. Obviously, this is a very small sample size, and it’s incredibly rare that someone vaults onto the big screen the way she did, taking a starring role in her cinematic debut (and no, I’m not counting the two cameo roles she had prior to Trainwreck), but it’s a bit of a conundrum. I tend to think that if she was a serious draw, then the movie would have cleared 25 million bucks this weekend, and at least 20. I know 17.5 isn’t far off, but it’s far enough to make a difference.

As it happens, we are going to see more evidence in one direction or the other in the coming 12 months or so. Aside from the two comedies, She Came to Me and I Feel Pretty that are both in pre-production, there is the completed PTSD drama Thank You For Your Service coming in the fall.

That, in fact, asks another obvious question, which is whether or not audiences have any interest in seeing her in a dramatic role. My inclination is to be doubtful, but that might be my personal bias. In either event, it’s going to take at least a few more movies for us to find a definitive answer.

Generally speaking, an actor only has so many opportunities to prove they can bring the people. Schumer is different. She started out with a winner, and that’s going to buy her a lot of goodwill with the folks who write the checks. But goodwill doesn’t last forever. At some point, results have to support it.


Neil Turitz 2 is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades working in and writing about Hollywood. Feel free to send him a tweet at @neilturitz. He’ll more than likely respond.

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One Response to What Makes a Star a Star? (Or the Curious Case of Amy Schumer)

  1. ” it wasn’t just the fact that they were seeing a normal-looking woman as the center of a movie and being the object of attractive men”

    I’ll give you John Cena, but can we please stop pretending that Bill Hader is attractive by Hollywood standards. Hader is quite a believable match for Amy Schumer.

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