Oftentimes, I stick to the facts, my own interpretation, or being a complete smartass when I explore the thematic elements of a film. Very seldom do I make it personal. This one… this is going to get personal, because it bothered me so much, especially in light of recent personal events.
Full disclosure: I am in an open marriage. I’ve always been discreet about a relationship with someone who wasn’t my husband, in part because there’s still a massive social stigma around the concept of being able to love more than one person at a time. Not everyone got to see this part of me, which was equal parts fear and protection. I didn’t want any partner of mine to receive crappy treatment based on someone else’s hangup on social construct; anyone I love is special and deserves that protection, and I didn’t want to be a source of pain because I don’t fit the mold. I wanted to keep my partners safe, and so I carefully selected who I told, telling more and more people as my comfort level increased. Truthfully, I was in a relationship with someone whom I deeply loved, to whom I was not married, and it was pride in being with this person that gave me the courage to tell more people about my situation; this person was too good to be kept secret, and being with that person meant more than the thought of getting rejected by others in my life. The more people I told, the more they would ask how both of my partners were doing. There were well-wishes and remarks that I looked genuinely happy. It was encouraging, because that’s not normal for everyone. Cut to last month, when the relationship unexpectedly went belly-up. I took this one much harder than any other split I’ve been through. I can tell you right now, the response I got from everyone that knew … it was moving. No judgment; they let me cry and hugged me and told me that they were sorry, which is a long way from the reactions I used to get when someone found out. I got the same respect as a monogamous girl going through a split: the same defensiveness, the same wanting to cheer me up. It felt nice to be recognized as hurting rather than judged for not doing things “the normal way” or, as some are fond of sanctimoniously sneering, “the right way.” It gave me the chutzpah to make the broader declaration of being open/poly. So here I am: out and proud, take it or leave it.
What the hell does this have to do with movies, Erin? is what you’re most likely thinking. In the midst of all of this heartbreak and deep thinking, I tried to cheer myself up with Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, because I needed something funny and I like Amy Schumer. Jesus was that a mistake. I was appalled at the way that nonmonogamy was made into something that needed to be cured in order to have a “better” (monogamous/traditional) relationship, effectively treating it as a disease rather than a valid way of life.
|I, for one, am not judging your sexual habits, Amy.
The character Amy is a mess, but not due to her nonmonogamous practices. Amy is nasty to her nephew Allister, making fun of the way he dresses, how he’s most likely bullied at school, and the open-arms approach he has to his stepmother. This kid is warm, loving and frankly awesome, and I’d love to have him in my life. The way she acts toward him is unconscionable. It doesn’t stop with him: she’s rude to everyone, from colleagues to her sister to her brother-in-law to waitstaff in restaurants, shredding everything from appearance to intelligence to lack of constant drinking. How she treats others is horrifying; I sure as shit wouldn’t tolerate that. More troubling, Amy has a dependence on drugs and alcohol to get her through her days, which goes into unhealthy territory. When someone gets blackout drunk on a regular basis, I’d like to know why no one is concerned for that person’s physical well-being. Arguably, these issues are far greater because they filter into things outside of the bedroom: Amy is hung over at work, and she can’t carry on a conversation without insulting the other participant. Do you see anything in those behaviors that suggests that sex filters into that? Nope. That’s all Amy’s nasty personality, and her sex life has nothing to do with her being a bad aunt or an out-of-line colleague. Those are far greater problems in the grand scheme of things.
And yet the focus of what needs to be corrected about her is on her sexual practice. This means that the character, whether everyone wants to admit it or not, is getting slut shamed for practicing something that the rest of those around her do not socially condone. At her sister’s babyshower, jokes are made about her sleeping around, as though her sexual freedom is a punchline for the spectators that really need to mind their own business. This is the one area of Amy’s life where she’s actually playing it safe: there are references all around to condom use. She’s having a lot of sex with a lot of partners, but she’s not hurting anyone physically, and really, that’s her right and no one should judge. That doesn’t stop people from trying to change this one aspect of her life, though. Her sister tells her multiple times, “Maybe it’s time you change your ways.” She’s repeatedly sold on how great it is to date someone, and how starting a family will make her happy. Christ did that one get me: the mother at the babyshower declaring, “My life did not begin until I had kids.” That life is not right for everyone, and this single line sums up what’s wrong with the theme of this film: your path is not the right path for everyone else. The life everyone wants to sell Amy has nothing to do with her giving up alcohol and weed; it has everything to do with finding one guy and making it work. The notion of being able to sleep with multiple people does not configure to those around her. It’s easier to explain away her drinking than her flouting of social convention, and the pressure is put upon this character to change in order to be accepted by society whether this suits the wants and needs of Amy or not.
|Yeah, this looks comfortable.
That’s the major failure of this film: it takes someone who is a square peg and tries to force her into a round hole in the name of painting monogamy as the only way to have a successful relationship, completely denying that there are other paths to happiness. This gets hammered into us: we watch as her relationship with Steve (John Cena) fails, though it’s more so because she’s dishonest with him and doesn’t fully communicate her relationship goals. We watch her struggle to fit in with the other women at her sister’s babyshower because she’s not part of the Mini Van Mafia of Mommies (they are out there, and they are fucking terrifying). We listen to her tell her sister, “I act like everything you do in your life is so wrong and stupid. But it’s just because I don’t think that I can have that. I’m not okay…. I know what I am. I know who I am. And I’m broken.” Rather than try to see things from her perspective, Amy is told that she is wrong and is going to fail forever because it’s not what everyone else does. Of course Amy fails: every other character refuses to give her the acceptance to be who she is without judgment; the tools to succeed are not explored, so she can’t use them to make herself into a happy, functioning nonmonogamous person. The thing is… monogamy is not what everyone else does. To paraphrase Dan Savage, there are more of us out there than you’d think, and it’s complicated. Some of us have periods of closed relationships; others practice casual dating. Some have long-term partners that they introduce to their children; some live with long term partners; others don’t. Each individual has different boundaries based on what works for him or her; there is not just one way to do a relationship. It has to be navigated, and for someone who is not emotionally mature, Amy could have used more resources to help her. How different would this film have been if Amy had my friends? Would she have made a better transition to a closed relationship, if that was what she wanted? Would she have found someone more in line with her beliefs? What kind of story would this have been had she been accepted rather than told she needed to assimilate?
|Could have ended way better is all I’m saying.
The first line of this film is, “Don’t judge me, fuckers.” Sadly, judgment is all that we get to see, and it’s not the drinking or weed that gets hit the hardest: it’s the nonconformity to monogamy. Perhaps the film should have taken a better look at how to make the nonmonogamous more successful in their choices, rather than view them as something that requires fixing. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t have to change to fit into what others want you to be. You should be loved and accepted as who you are. You may not get it, but you don’t have to. Just be a good person and be there when it matters.