Steve Carell in Foxcatcher. Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love. Jennifer Aniston in Cake.
Amy Schumer certainly isn't the first comedian to test out her more dramatic side. In fact, it's almost a Hollywood rite of passage for those who deal mainly in jokes to toss aside the laughs and harness their inner thespian. For some, trying on serious roles can just be a one-and-done challenge, a way to prove to themselves that they're more than just punch lines or to test the waters on the other side of the pond. For others, the first-ever drama is a calculated career move—or even an awards bid. (Cough...Foxcatcher...cough).
It remains to be seen whether Schumer is chasing the aforementioned challenge or whether she's going full Carell, but this weekend movie audiences will get to decide for themselves whether her acting chops are as sharp as her wit.
Schumer stars in Thank You For Your Service, a movie about the perils that soldiers returning from the Iraq war face on the home front. It's the onscreen adaptation of a book of the same name that follows an army battalion returning from battle and it just so happens to be written and directed by Jason Hall, the man behind the screenplay for the Bradley Cooper-starring American Sniper. (And whose own brother served in the Army in the '90s).
In other words, this isn't exactly Snatched.
The comedian plays Amanda Doster, the wife of Sergeant James Doster, who is killed right before he is scheduled to return home from the battlefield. (And don't worry: That's not a spoiler. It's literally the first thing you learn about her). While most of the characters, like star Miles Teller, are trying to work through their own PTSD, Amy's character is grappling with questions about her husband's death.
The first thing that Amy's fans should know is that the part is, well, small. She appears onscreen frequently and her character is alluded to more often than that, but she only has a handful of lines. She comes out of the gate strong with a big conflict in the third scene of the movie—she confronts Teller's character during the ceremonial soldier's homecoming on an airport tarmac to find out the tragic details surrounding her husband's still-mysterious death while deployed—but then is barely heard from until one of the flick's final scenes.
Most of the movie centers around Teller and his fellow soldiers and their struggles back in the "real world" (like processing the trauma of what they saw in Iraq and criminally long waits at the VA, to name a few), so Schumer's Amanda Doster serves to show how war affects civilians, too. What happened to her husband remains a mystery for most of the movie, and her mere presence haunts Teller and his friends.
Hall, the director, has admitted that he was initially hesitant to cast Schumer in the role—not only is such a serious part uncharted territory for the comedian, but the character is fully traumatized. It's a tricky job for even the most seasoned dramatist. The behind her casting stands that Amy let the studio know she was interested in the part (and ready and willing to take on a new genre), so they decided to have her come in and audition.
As the director has made clear, she had clearly put in a lot of preparation and practice.
"When she came in, she was raw and ready," Hall said while promoting Thank You For Your Service. "There was a sense of her being present and carrying this grief...She just became Amanda, took on a different physicality and worked hard to help create an amazing transformation into this character."
The second thing that Amy Schumer fans should know is that she's actually pretty good in the role. The filmmakers did their part in her transformation by giving her one of the most startling makeunders audiences have seen in a long time. (Don't be surprised if you find yourself gasping at first sight). To play Amanda Doster, she dons a brunette wig and clothes that could only be described as, well, modest. (Think very, very plain). Combine that with minimal makeup and a demeanor that is more reserved than we ever thought possible and you have a nearly unrecognizable Amy Schumer.
Amy shies away from pretty much everything she's used to doing on camera and to say she is reserved in the part would be an understatement. Whether it's effective is probably going to be up to each individual viewer—and how much they're willing to suspend belief. It's a bit distracting to get used to seeing her this way, and the role certainly could have benefited from more screen time if for nothing else but to allow the audience to get used to it a little bit more.
That being said, the final thing Amy Schumer fans should know is that she has one of the movie's most pivotal scenes. Most of the plot (and Teller's character's journey) leads up to the question of whether he's going to give Amanda the explanation she deserves about her husband's death. We'll stay spoiler-free, but Hall himself described her monologue at the flick's end as "the defining lines of the film.
No pressure for a first-timer or anything, right Amy?