Snatched is Amy Schumer’s second big budget film after Trainwreck and, like Trainwreck, it’s a bit of a disappointment, although for different reasons. Whereas Trainwreck felt as if Schumer had to accommodate herself to Judd Apatow’s worldview – the film almost played as an apology for Inside Amy Schumer – in Snatched it feels as if her screenplay would have benefited from a little more intervention from director Jonathan Levine. Starring Schumer and Goldie Hawn as Emily and Linda Middleton, a mother and daughter who are abducted while on vacation in South America, it starts as a comedy and turns into an adventure film, without ever fully committing to both. Leaving Schumer and Hawn to flounder in a space that’s not consistently played for laughs or thrills, it often feels like a sketch from Inside Amy Schumer – or a series of sketches – that has been spun out to the length of an entire film. While that may be truer, in some ways, to the madcap anarchy of Schumer’s televisual style than the unexpected tastefulness and conservatism of Trainwreck, it necessitates a lot of down time and connective tissue between sketches that is only partly alleviated by the presence of Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack and Christopher Meloni in supporting comic roles.
To its credit, Snatched foreshadows those quieter moments from the very beginning, casting the first meeting between Emily and Louise – Emily returning home after being dumped by her boyfriend – in a quiet, contemplative light that leaves no doubt as to the gravity and pathos of Hawn’s first (and possibly final) return to the big screen since The Banger Sisters in 2002. A lot has happened in cinema during that period, and a lot has happened in Hawn’s own life, which is perhaps why it quickly feels as if the process whereby Schumer coaxed Hawn out of retirement is the true subject matter and soulful centre of Snatched, and would make a terrific documentary on its own terms, from her initial shoutout to Hawn after receiving the Glamour UK award from Jennifer Saunders, to the stories about spending time with Hawn and Kate Hudson in Hawaii that she has subsequently worked into her standup act. That backstory is all the more interesting in that it’s immediately clear that this isn’t meant to be Hawn’s comeback, but instead a more sincere acknowledgment of her age and legacy, as Schumer alternates between photographs in the Middleton family album that are clearly taken from iconic moments in Hawn’s filmography, and sequences in which Hawn herself is startlingly devoid of the frills, makeup and general simulation of youth that so often seems to be a prerequisite for Hollywood actresses looking for a second lease on life.
As with Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange in Feud: Bette and Joan, then, Hawn’s age is front and centre here – that’s the point – as Schumer almost goes out of her way to make her appear as if she could be anybody’s mother, even her own. It’s a vision that is bound to ring true with anybody who has consumed Hawn’s movies endlessly and domestically on television and on VHS – she has always been one of the most popular actresses on the small screen – and yet the effect isn’t to demystify or domesticate her either but to recapture her gravity as a big screen actor for an era in which the big screen might not be expected to have all that much time for her. Not unlike the way in which Feud allegorises Sarandon and Lange’s decreasing valency as big screen actors, there’s a sense that Schumer is offering Hawn something few Hollywood actresses genuinely receive – late work – in what initially feels set to be a fairly soulful mother-daughter film along the lines of such 90s weepies as Stepmom, One True Thing and Now and Then. As a result, even when the comedy and adventure broaden, they subsist upon quite a sincere romantic and affective core that, among other things, allows Schumer to really showcase her acting skills – nobody can act drunk better – nurturing Hawn’s more tentative presence and performance in the process.
In other words, Snatched has a real vulnerability at its heart – for both Schumer and Hawn – that makes the whole abduction narrative feel somewhat extraneous, since it just reiterates a vulnerability that’s already there in the way in which Schumer scripts the two characters. If anything, Emily and Linda are more disempowered at the South American resort before they’re “taken” – being abducted is quite empowering by comparison – since there’s no other space in the film that’s quite as punitive and judgmental of women who don’t fit a prescribed Hollywood age and body type. No other space except New York, that is, since the strange paradox of Snatched is that Emily and Linda – like Hawn and Schumer – are far more displaced in their native country than they ever are once they’re on the run from their kidnappers. Between Emily’s abject breakup and Linda’s lonely life as a single mother, they’re more or less disposable in terms of the New York social economy we see in the opening prologue, which is perhaps why these scenes – along with those at the resort – are the most brutally screwy, but also the most soulful and life-affirming, in the entire movie.
In some ways, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since the premise of Inside Amy Schumer – and Schumer’s own standup – depends upon how much of an outsider she has always felt in New York, despite being a New Yorker herself. In one of her most popular bits, she describes the vast number of people who have come up to her on the subway, mistaking her for a Midwesterner, and many more of her sketches revolve around her inability – or unwillingness – to fully acclimatise herself to the comedy scene and hipster subculture against which she came of age. By moving the action to South America, however, that sense of displacement is itself displaced, creating a weird atonality by which Hawn and Schumer feel more at home as the action grows more and more frantic. While that sounds interesting on paper, and certainly turns the abduction into a bonding experience, I found myself wishing, by the end, that Snatched had simply been about Emily and Linda – and Schumer and Hawn – living their lives in New York as a single mother and daughter. And in many ways, it feels as if that’s the kind of story that Schumer wants to tell on the big screen – the kind of story she tells so well in the more fragmented format of Inside Amy Schumer, but perhaps needs a different kind of director (maybe herself) to bring to a feature-length format that’s so much more burdened with conservative narrative and stylistic expectations.