Get ready for the backlash against Amy Schumer's new comedy
Amy Schumer's Snatched isn't subversive. Does that make it bad?
Amy Schumer's funny new comedy Snatched is going to disappoint a lot of people.
The sketch series that helped propel Schumer to fame — Inside Amy Schumer — doesn't yet have an official airdate for its fifth season. Meanwhile, she'll star in a new Netflix stand-up special this year and at least two movies: the upcoming drama Thank You For Your Service as well as the just-opening Snatched. Yet it seems inevitable that the latter will be greeted with some of the same complaints elicited by comedies like Sisters (starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation), Keanu (starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of their Comedy Central sketch show Key & Peele), and even Schumer's better-reviewed Trainwreck. You were so funny, fresh, and subversive on TV! Why is your big-screen vehicle so silly, so lightweight, so conventional?
Snatched's set-up will be familiar to fans of Schumer's shorter-form work. After a semi-oblivious, self-obsessed Emily is dumped by her boyfriend just before their planned vacation to Ecuador, she sulks at the suburban home of her attentive but nervous mother Linda (Goldie Hawn!). Though the screenplay was written by the very funny Katie Dippold (The Heat, Parks and Recreation), Schumer always seems particularly attuned to behavioral tics, in both Emily's solo activities (mostly posting to Instagram) and her interactions with her mother (who calls her NYC-resident daughter to warn her about a crime spree happening in Delaware). When Emily suggests that her mother come with her to Ecuador, Linda is aghast: "Everyone knows you need two years to plan a vacation!" But she acquiesces, and eventually the two wind up kidnapped in South America.
This kicker could easily turn up on Inside Amy Schumer, though a sketch version would likely have ended shortly thereafter. Snatched continues, though, as Emily and Linda attempt to evade their captors and find their way to safety. The extreme nature of this situation gives the comedy a little extra menace, but mostly the South American locations (played by Hawaii) are an excuse to go broader, as Schumer and Hawn bicker and pratfall their way through the jungle.
Dippold and Schumer are too smart to avoid spoofing white-lady vanity (as Emily wants to mine her experiences for internet compliments) and paranoia (as the situation plays out like something from Linda's worst nightmares of foreign travel). But those aren't really the subjects of Snatched; this is foremost a mother-daughter comedy about the frustration and affection of such a close relationship. In the end, nothing about this movie is especially subversive.
So while the satirical details are often similar, Snatched is a far cry from Schumer's TV work. Inside Amy Schumer made its well-deserved reputation on often-lacerating sketches that address social issues and foibles: A group of expectant mothers smugly compete to reject the greatest volume of Western medical practices; a group of friends show off how they've been trained never to accept compliments. Throughout, Schumer is unafraid to make herself look sloppy, selfish, or mean. In contrast, Snatched has a scene where her character bonds with South American natives, and while there's a hint of self-deprecation to the interactions, the moment is mostly there to make Emily look less monstrously selfish than she did before.
I'm sure, then, that some fans will blame the movie's lack of serrated edge on the scourge of movie-mandated likability — that Emily and Linda must learn lessons from each other through this ordeal. Admittedly, those lessons are a little pat, and as the movie tacks toward a vaguely deferential attitude towards parents ("I should have listened to you," etc.) it does reveal more traditional values, just as Trainwreck revealed itself as a romantic comedy, not an acidic satire of one. But if we can agree that subversion is a great quality in a comedy, is it also required to make a good one?
Given the reaction that greeted Jordan Peele's (wonderful) Get Out as opposed to Key and Peele's (quite funny) Keanu, there's certainly a hunger for familiar TV comedians to push their work further. But Keanu does address issues of identity central to its black characters, and the relationships in the Poehler/Fey bash Sisters, like Snatched, feel borne from real experiences, even if the movie doesn't warm hearts like Parks and Rec or satirize culture like 30 Rock.
Snatched is "only" funny and it still maintains its star's clear comic voice — not something that can be said for many sloppier mainstream studio comedies. Director Jonathan Levine orchestrates the action with less fuss than his last broad comedy, The Night Before; he gives the physical comedy plenty of space, including a gag that is entirely predictable but still almost made me pass out laughing because of its framing.
Certainly, the movie could have given Hawn more to do; her character comes through more clearly in the opening half-hour than she does when she goes on the run. But the zippy, occasionally slapdash watchability of Snatched (or Sisters, or Keanu) doesn't have to be a letdown. It's not meant to be shared on Facebook walls as a vital piece of cultural criticism. It's a movie comedy with a point of view. Is that really so disappointing?