"Snatched" Is Proof That The White-Women-Behaving-Badly Comedy Needs To Take A Break
Why is it so hard to translate Amy Schumer’s wayward comedic persona into a movie? (Warning: SPOILERS ahead.)
Emily Middleton, the thirtysomething New Yorker that Amy Schumer plays in Snatched, is a gross miscalculation of a character. But that realization takes a while to settle in. From afar, Emily looks like she might be a variation on the comedic persona Schumer has honed and weaponized in her standup and on her TV series, Inside Amy Schumer. You know the type — the Schumerian hot mess, the one who shuts the bar down, who’s unruffled to find herself waking up next to a stranger, who’s ditzy and lazy, and who parties and selfies as hard as she can to escape her feelings of inadequacy.
When Emily describes her plans for her upcoming Ecuadorian vacation to someone, they consist of how she hopes to transition from poolside cocktails in the day to red wine and then scotch at night. But after she’s divested of her retail job and her musician boyfriend (a welcome cameo from Randall Park) in quick succession, she’s left with no one to take with her on the nonrefundable trip.
No one, that is, except for her divorced, anxiety-ridden mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn, making a questionable choice for her first role in 15 years), a necessity the film treats as deeply embarrassing. And so the two women travel to a resort, and soon find themselves kidnapped and held for ransom, then figure out a way to flee their captors and end up getting lost in the Amazon.
It’s a misadventure in which Hawn acquits herself better as the neurotic straight woman than Schumer does as, basically, an asshole. Snatched, which is directed by 50/50’s Jonathan Levine and written by Katie Dippold (of The Heat, Ghostbusters, and this legendary tweet), is a talent-packed, terrifically unfunny movie that, more than anything else, underscores just how difficult it is to translate Schumer’s sharp-elbowed stylings to the conventions of a movie.
This was a challenge for her first big-screen leading role in Trainwreck, too, a better film that reveled in her character’s sloppy, standards-defying splendor only to then “solve” her with monogamy and sobriety. Snatched does much worse by having Emily let it all hang out without a hint of the savage self-awareness or sly feminism with which Schumer, not always perfectly, infused her show. Emily is Schumer’s vapid white girl schtick shorn of any of the underlying commentary, the movie treating her terribleness as endearing, right on through the two people she accidentally murders (lol!).
That Snatched plays those incidents for uncertain laughs is an indication of how unsure it is of who it’s making fun of. It makes a joke about Linda’s xenophobic fears by having her mishear a “welcome” cocktail as being full of “whale cum” and react in horror, but it also affirms them by having her and her daughter abducted by a group of glowering South American stereotypes who prey on female tourists. Their leader, the crime lord Morgado (Óscar Jaenada), lambasts the Americans who come to his country only to stay in the resorts, but Snatched presents itself as one big warning against leaving those luxury confines.
It’s on a day trip in the company of a suave but possibly sinister Brit (Tom Bateman) that the women get grabbed, and in their subsequent escape, they trek miles through the wilderness, get infected with tapeworms, and almost fall off a cliff. Meanwhile, Ike Barinholtz, as Emily’s agoraphobic brother, tries to annoy the State Department into helping out, and Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack get underused as a pair of platonic (they insist) fellow vacationers with a particular set of skills.
More than anything else, Snatched feels like an exhausted dead end for a type of comedy that Schumer and Lena Dunham, in particular, became famous for in the last decade — a comedy that consists of pitilessly self-lacerating white-women-behaving-badly scenarios that leans into its characters’ uglier tendencies while also inquiring into the standards by which those characters get judged.
It’s a type of comedy that has had a marvelous capacity to enrage, either because its depictions of obliviousness, immaturity, and narcissism get misread as endorsements, or because its performances of calculated awfulness have a way of triggering misogynistic reactions in people who prefer women onscreen to be likable and free of bodily functions. At its best, their work pushes at chauvinistic expectations of female behavior and appeal while also attempting to acknowledge and mock the privileges their characters do enjoy and never want to think about.
But there’s never any of that cuts-both-ways balance to Snatched. Its setup implicitly excuses both Linda’s soft racism and Emily’s adult toddler routine, running only with the white-women-behaving-badly part of the equation before segueing into an arc of sincere and unearned self-actualization. It melds Ecuador and Colombia into one crime-ridden jungle backdrop against which its main characters can reconnect and air their grievances — because maybe Emily’s problem isn’t that she’s selfish, it’s that she never got enough encouragement from the lonesome mother she contacts only when she needs things.
The film’s nadir involves Linda and Emily stopping by a village where Emily joins in on the day’s work by — and this part isn’t a joke — taking a bucket another one of the locals has walked all the way over to her, then pouring it into a well while being praised by Linda for helping. Upon learning that the women do all the work in the community, Emily raises her eyebrows in a very I could teach these ladies something way.
If it weren’t played totally straight — if Emily didn’t, end up doing nonspecific volunteer work abroad — it would be a fantastic, biting bit. Imagine: His American gal gets carried half dead out of the jungle with killers on her trail, and upon waking, proceeds to self-righteously lecture the indigenous strangers who saved her life about gender. That’s the kind of scathing angle you can almost imagine being an Inside Amy Schumer sketch — the kind that would be ruthless about the character she’s playing in the film.