A startlingly funny look at life in the messed-up lane, “Trainwreck: My Life As an Idoit” — misspelling intentional — might be dismissed as cinematic tomfoolery if it weren’t based closely on events recounted in comic Jeff Nichol’s memoir. Beautifully put-together pic’s main appeal is a far-ranging central perf from Seann William Scott, who doesn’t try to ingratiate, yet comes off as far more likable than in his many fratboy roles. Fans of “American Pie” might find this one a bit arty, but “Trainwreck” is anarchic enough to win over younger auds if smartly approached.
With buzz cut, beard and quietly maniacal stare, Scott plays a dyslexic, alcoholic, ADD-addled New Yorker with a strong need for attention and a mild case of Tourette’s (although that affliction isn’t convincingly portrayed). Scripter-helmer Tod Harrison Williams’ most brilliant touch is to have Jeff join an endless round of AA-type groups — some completely unrelated to his issues — the better to explain his problems at annoyingly hilarious length. Pic mostly consists of flashbacks that illustrate (or refute) the points he is making in public.
Main troubles seem to connect back to Mommy, as he always calls her, although scenes with his mother (Dierdre O’Connell) and stepdad (Denis O’Hare) show them to be nothing worse than self-absorbed upper-crusters who reach for their checkbooks a little too easily. Somehow, their guidance has given him the skills only to sink boats, lose jobs and burn down the family mansion. But he does like to fish. And talk.
Palavering skills are what get him involved with Lynn, a sexy socialite from one of his many meetings. Played by Gretchen Mol in what may be her most poignant perf to date, the woman is a conflicted nightmare regarding relationships, but her extreme patience with Jeff’s foibles (at one point, he soils her sheets) eventually helps him discover a few key things about normal living.
Along with superb support from Mol, Scott gets memorable assistance from Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”). And there’s a terrific cameo from Kevin Conway as an upstate man (whom Jeff calls Uncle Popcorn) who tries to set the lad straight while kicking him out of his garage.
Handsomely shot and edited pic doesn’t try too hard to fix its protag by the end, but it does cover enough emotional territory, supported by spare original music and well-chosen pop songs, to satisfy auds while making them laugh. Real-life Nichols is glimpsed doing standup comedy during end credits.