Ah, the tricky case of Amy Schumer. When she started showing up on the mainstream radar in 2013, everyone thought she was the comedic savior we didn’t know we needed. Less than two years later, it seemed like she was everywhere, and the negative backlash began. Comments ranged from “I really don’t think she’s even that funny” to “She’s racist and a bad feminist.” While these might be truly felt opinions, I feel like they’re indicative of how a lot of funny, outspoken women get treated once they achieve a certain level of fame (another who comes to mind is Lena Dunham). First of all, no woman will ever be the perfect feminist, and no woman should feel single-handedly responsible for carrying that banner. And secondly, unfavorable evaluations of these women and their work often sound less like thoughtful criticism and more like indignation that they don’t somehow “know their place.” As in, women are supposed to be famous because they’re pretty or cute or sexy, not because they’re funny. That they have the “audacity” to be unapologetically confident and outspoken, despite not being “conventionally good-looking,” is interpreted as smugness.
I certainly don’t mean to assert that any women, attractive or otherwise (comedians included), should be above being called out for bigotry, bad art, or misbehavior. But I do feel frustrated that it seems to happen to them a lot more quickly and frequently than it does to their male counterparts. Maybe there’s no Louis C.K. backlash because his comedy is flawless, his politics eternally woke, and his personal life without misstep (which it isn’t). Or maybe it’s because no one feels as threatened by an average-looking male celebrity as they do by an average-looking female one. Maybe it’s because no one expects men to be feminist poster-children, and therefore temporary silence on an issue doesn’t get called out as apathy. Maybe it’s because enough men are allowed to be famous and funny that we don’t have to cling desperately to each one, demanding that they do all the work we need done. It’s as if subconsciously, we still believe that women owe something to the world as the price for being relevant. I’m the one millionth person to say it, but there is a double standard, and the way we talk about Amy Schumer is evidence of it.
That being said…Snatched is a mediocre movie, and my critical integrity obligates me to say so. So consider my long-winded intro a plea against a) writing off Amy Schumer, and b) giving up on the R-rated female comedy. (Please…we have three Hangover movies with another one in the works, and not so much as a murmur of doubt in the genre, despite 2 and 3 being redundant and lackluster).
Snatched is the story of Linda and Emily Middleton (Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer), an endearing mother/daughter duo whose opposite lifestyles often have them bickering. After Emily is unexpectedly dumped by her musician boyfriend (a brief but memorable Randall Park), and right before their romantic vacation to Ecuador no less, she decides to take her reluctant, homebody mother instead. Almost immediately, Emily is seduced by James, a strapping, swoon-worthy foreigner (Tom Bateman), who kindly offers to take her and her mother sightseeing. But during their return to the hotel, a band of local thugs crashes into the Jeep and kidnaps the women, demanding ransom or promising violence. Attempts at hilarity ensue.
What works is that Amy Schumer is actually/still funny. There’s no denying this. Her delivery, her facial expressions, her body language—each is hilarious. She has the ability to act in public how most people act only in private, which is to say, unashamed, overly-dramatic, and selfishly pragmatic, teetering between paranoid insecurity and delusional confidence. She the type of woman you meet drunk in line at the bathroom at a bar, one who spills her entire life story, doles out some unexpectedly profound advice, and makes you wish your date was half as amusing.
What’s odd then, is that she’s somewhat miscast in a film that was created as a vehicle for her. Emily is candid and self-absorbed, but she’s also ditzy, innocent, and gullible, three qualities that I didn’t buy for a second from Ms. Schumer. Rather than watch her “outsmart” the bad guys via a few lucky accidents, I would’ve rather watched her humiliate them with her insults, unsettle them with her crudeness, or prove that when it comes to lack of scruples, they’re no match for her. At its best, Schumer’s wit is a razor-sharp arrow of incisiveness, honesty, and zero-fucks-given, one I would gleefully watch lodge itself in the heart of my enemies. So it’s a shame that the antagonists are nothing more than vaguely racist stereotypes, whose brand of bad is so bland I felt little pleasure seeing them injured. James (who, turns out, helped facilitate the kidnapping) is far more deserving of her fury and punishment. A funnier movie would’ve been to have Emily and her mom gang up on him, and make him rue the day he picked the Middleton women to mess with.
Speaking of the Middletons as a unit, Hawn and Schumer have great chemistry, though Hawn is grossly underutilized. She’s unwisely boxed in by her anxious, square character, who’s meant to be the foil to Schumer’s immature, irresponsible one. Whether it’s the result of poor writing or fifteen years away from film, Hawn’s performance is lost amongst the over-the-top gags of Schumer and the rest of the supporting cast. Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack play fellow guests at the resort, and prove to be not only valuable allies (Cusack’s character is retired Special-Ops), but comedic assets. Ike Barinholtz is a standout as Schumer’s nerdy, agoraphobic brother, as is Bashir Salahuddin, who plays the government official forced to field his constant phone calls.
But if I were to really sum up what’s wrong with Snatched, I’d posit that it suffers from the same problem as many recent comedies—the plot is simultaneously too complicated and too weak; the emotions simultaneously too sentimental and not sentimental enough. In my opinion, the method for making a successful comedy should either be a) aim to tell a great story that also happens to be really funny, or b) shoot two hours of hilarious people performing hilarious jokes, largely unhindered by attempts to insert a plot or character arcs.
Watching Snatched, I felt like the gags and one-liners came first, and the spaces between were filled in with plot points to reach a quota. Likewise, effort to convey the touching evolution of a mother-daughter relationship felt more like a marketing gimmick than anything else, and the resulting reconciliation is unearned and emotionally ineffective. I’ll accept both cynicism and sincerity, but don’t serve up one and pretend it’s the other. Despite the fact that its leading actress possesses both, Snatched achieves neither the irreverence nor the heart that it strives for.
Rachel Woldum is barista and bartender currently living in Minneapolis. An MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, Rachel also writes a TV column for Southern Minnesota Scene, and develops comic book scripts for Cartoon Studios.