In Life & Beth, Amy Schumer finally plays a human being

In her latest series, the actor borrows conspicuously from serious moments in her own life. Amanda Whiting celebrates Schumer’s evolution

Thursday 19 May 2022 09:42 BST
Amy Schumer in Life & Beth
Amy Schumer in Life & Beth ( Marcus Price (Hulu))

The premise of Life & Beth is pure Amy Schumer. Finally arriving in the UK this week on Disney Plus, the Hulu series – in which she not only stars, but writes, produces, and occasionally directs – sees her play a Manhattan wine salesperson confronting the numerous dissatisfactions in her life. She doesn’t like her boyfriend, who doesn’t appreciate her. She doesn’t like her job, which requires her to befriend people she, rightly, finds inane. She’s distant from her family. But this time, something’s different.

The specific brand of urban millennial that we’ve come to expect from Schumer’s narcissistic protagonists is still here – think Amy, the binge-drinking magazine writer from Trainwreck, or Renee, the image-obsessed cosmetics firm employee from I Feel Pretty. But where they chose to indulge their worst instincts, Beth chooses self-reflection. When someone she loves dies unexpectedly in the series premiere, Beth retreats to the suburban Long Island town where she grew up for some soul-searching. The realisation that she needs to overhaul her life isn’t the show’s tidy conclusion, but its jumping off point. This is Amy Schumer gone zen. Goodbye tequila shots; hello Saturday night bargain shopping at TK Maxx.

That maturation reflects Schumer’s own evolution, both as a performer but also as a famous person. After several seasons of her acclaimed sketch comedy series Inside Amy Schumer, the 2015 hit film Trainwreck turned the comedian into a celebrity. Her Hollywood friendships with Jennifer Lawrence and Aziz Ansari were scrapbooked in the tabloids, and she’s been profiled everywhere, from glossy magazines to the New York Times. On Instagram, where she has 11.7 million followers, Schumer posts candid stories – her body after a liposuction procedure, her difficult pregnancy – which get recycled and redistributed as celebrity news. In Life & Beth, some of Schumer’s real-life gets another round of rehashing, which even a casual Amy Schumer fan will likely pick up on.

It’s not uncommon to see an artist rummage her own life for inspiration; in Life & Beth, it helps Schumer achieve the series’ weightiest, most compelling moments. Schumer has spoken about her struggles with trichotillomania, a disorder that involves the compulsive need to pull out your own hair, which Beth dealt with as a young person. Beth’s love interest on the show, John, a straight-forward farmer played with charming aloofness by Michael Cera, is written to resemble Schumer’s own husband, the chef Chris Fischer. Like Fischer, John grew up on a farm. Though it is never mentioned by name, John demonstrates traits associated with autism, and Schumer has frequently spoken about Fischer’s autism diagnosis (including on her 2019 Netflix special Growing).

The relationship is dynamic, though. If the serious beats of Life & Beth work because of Schumer’s perceived authority over the subject, then perhaps they also guide where the actor goes from here. More than any previous role, Beth gives Schumer the opportunity to show off the full range of her capabilities as an actor. Schumer shines in more dramatic scenes, like when Beth compassionately negotiates her relationship with her unstable father (Michael Rappaport) or talks an ex-boyfriend out of crisis. After seeing her grapple with ennui and hardship, here and on Instagram, it’s tougher to imagine Schumer playing the narrowly self-obsessed wrecks who made her a movie star in the mid-2010s.

Of course, the series still has the rowdy-group-of-galpals frankness and acerbic one-liners Schumer’s always been so good at. “Do you have any preexisting conditions?” asks a doctor Beth sees for back pain, to which Beth answers, “I’m a woman.” But even Schumer’s punchlines feel like they’re evolving. In an early episode, an acquaintance tells 38-year-old Beth that she doesn’t look 40. “Really?” Beth says. I expected her to follow it up with gushing thanks, or even credit her vitality to some zeitgeisty beauty trend, like vampire facials. It would be the kind of sharp, satirical cultural takedown that Schumer is so good at it.

Which is why it was thrilling and unexpected to watch Beth sit with the compliment rather than spin it for a zinger at someone else’s expense. Even Schumer’s jokes are more introspective. “That’s funny,” she tells the acquaintance, settling into this new micro-period of life she shares with Amy Schumer. “I feel a hundred.”

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