Amy Schumer is a pregnant movie and TV star who is experiencing nausea unlike anything we usually see pregnant women endure in the movies or on TV.
As Schumer points out in the three-part HBO Max bio-doc “Expecting Amy,” in the movies, the heroine experiences some nausea at home in the morning or at work, dashes off to the bathroom for a discreet bit of throwing up, subsequently learns she’s expecting — and that’s the end of the morning sickness portion of the pregnancy. In Schumer’s real life, from almost the moment she learned she was having a baby, she started throwing up, and kept throwing up — sometimes for hours at a time. It’s like having food poisoning all the time, Schumer explains, and we believe it, and we feel for her, even more so after Amy is diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, which causes severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss and dehydration.
Like many (including this viewer), Schumer had never even heard of the condition until the diagnosis — but with cameras recording what sometimes feels like every waking moment of the arduous and exhausting journey, Schumer leans on her bottomless supply of quick wit and soldier-through-this humor, as well as a loyal team of supporters led by her husband, as she copes with the physical and emotional rollercoaster she’s riding, and continues to tour the country, deliver a podcast and work on a stand-up special for Netflix.
As one would expect, so to speak, “Expecting Amy” is a funny, frank, open book of a documentary — sort of like a stand-up-comic version of “Truth or Dare,” only with the lead wearing a sweatpants instead of stilettos, and the man behind the woman a regular guy in a stocking cap as opposed to Warren Beatty. With a combination of standard, fly-on-the-wall documentary footage blended with self-shot, amateur clips by Schumer and her husband, Chris Fischer, it’s a treat to see how Schumer and her creative team work out the details of a routine, from intimate sets at small clubs such as the Comedy Cellar through big-ticket venues such as the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas — all with an eye toward a Netflix special to be recorded at the Chicago Theatre. Schumer’s routines might seem like casual observations when she’s onstage, but as is the case with Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock and so many other top-tier comics, nearly every turn of phrase, every bit of physical business, has been finely honed through constant rewrites and dozens of performances.
Lots of funny stuff — but there’s also a ton of drama, most prominently but not limited to Schumer’s exhausting and difficult pregnancy. (Spoiler alert: She gives birth to a healthy baby boy, Gene, and yes, the cameras are there right until the moment of delivery and immediately thereafter.) We learn Amy’s mother, who has been married four times, left her father, who has MS, when Amy was a little girl.
While Schumer’s husband, a renowned chef, is incredibly supportive and literally there with Schumer on nearly plane ride, every concert stop and every moment at home, there are moments when he can be infuriatingly obstinate, as when he keeps checking his phone while driving, even as his pregnant wife grows more and more frustrated and angry, deservedly so. Chris also has rather … odd reactions to certain emotional moments. His father explains he’s been like this his whole life — but it’s only now, during the course of filming, that Chris is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Schumer works Chris’ condition — and some embarrassing details about their relationship — into her routines. He’s fine with it, until he’s not fine with it. They have a heated conversation in their kitchen that’s so intimate we almost feel bad about listening in — but of course it’s Amy’s and Chris’ decision to include that footage in the film.
“Expecting Amy” doesn’t try to hide the circumstances of Schumer’s life. Yes, she walks around in a big giant parka and she sometimes takes the train. (There’s a telling moment on the subway when an obnoxious troll takes her photo and Schumer calls him out, and he’s even more obnoxious when she engages with him. The clown clearly doesn’t think of her as an actual person.) But she also travels via private jet, and lives in an enormous penthouse on the Upper West Side, has a support team catering to her every need and can afford the best medical care. That doesn’t make her condition any less excruciating, her fears any less palpable, her rock-bottom moments any less dark — and her unbridled exhilaration upon meeting her son any less real.