Amy Schumer comedy

SNATCHED, Amy Schumer, and the Problem with Giving Up Authorship

Monday, May 15, 2017 Rob Samuelson

There’s something different about Amy Schumer in Snatched. The movie, about an aimless woman dragging her reluctant mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), on a South American vacation only to get kidnapped, marks a turn for the current queen of comedy. As Emily, a thirtysomething, recently fired clothing store employee, Schumer should have ample opportunity to push her familiar persona. You know the one. Her characters, especially in 2015’s Trainwreck (which Schumer wrote), have a been there, done that, weary and sarcastic attitude about the world. They also want to be better deep down and have no idea how to do it. Schumer the writer is rather critical of those characters’ inability to fix themselves.

Photo credit: Snatched/Facebook

Snatched’s Emily is not like that. Sure, she’s a little beaten down by the circumstances in her life. Her rocker boyfriend (Randall Park) has seen his band take off, so he dumps her. This prompts her to hunt down every former friend in her life to find a partner for a non-refundable trip. She can’t get anyone else, so she begs her mom to join. Hawn, the movie’s most valuable player, sells the role of “disappointed matriarch” in these scenes, flinging exasperated and judgemental sighs in Emily’s direction. Otherwise, Emily is a hapless and lazy know-nothing who expects everything to work out in the end without doing anything to ensure that things, in fact, work out. It’s a slight difference from what Schumer typically does. Without her guiding the characterization the way she otherwise might, everything slips away.

Given her track record with high-functioning disastrous characters, Snatched should give Schumer numerous opportunities to bring the house down with jokes about having her eyes opened to the harshness of the world, particularly when it comes time to defend herself and her mother with comically lethal force. The jokes are there for the taking. Schumer freaks out appropriately and occasionally in a way that draws laughs from an audience on occasion, but more often it feels slightly off.

That’s because Snatched is missing Schumer’s voice. Not literally, of course, because her character is not mute. She has lines. They just weren’t written by her. Schumer is not able to fully embody this character like she had done in Trainwreck and for several seasons of Inside Amy Schumer. Former Parks & Recreation story editor Katie Dippold’s screenplay functions like clockwork. It sets up jokes and plot elements that flow logically from start to finish. There are a pair of characters, played by Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, who begin the movie feeling like a throwaway gag, but they return to form the backbone of what can be a fairly sophisticated script on occasion. For the most part, Dippold puts the pieces where they need to be and the story wraps up fine -- it’s just that the final product produces a limp chuckle rather than a guttural belly laugh.

There’s a reason for this.

When Schumer is in charge of a project (her executive producer credit doesn’t cut it), her voice drives every facet. Although she does not direct, her words carry a movie, episode, sketch, or stand-up special. Her jokes are cutting and often fairly mean, but usually they’re not directed at others. She does not punch up or down in her comedy. She punches inward. She does not let her characters off the hook for their greed and lack of initiative. They go through the comedic ringer and don’t look good while doing it. You root for them in spite of their many flaws, because you see in her characters that they want to fix themselves -- the humor and pathos arise when characters can’t recognize that their actions aren’t helpful to them or anyone else. In the hands of the clunky, lifeless director Levine (the man should stick to dramedies like 50/50 rather than belly flopping with an action comedy like this), Schumer’s self-deprecating streak cannot come up to the surface. This comes to the forefront with Levine’s incomprehensible decision to get Emily and Linda away from the kidnappers as quickly as they fell into their clutches. This renders the movie both comedically and dramatically inert, because they jump from situation to situation without letting these women squirm in uncomfortable situations for long. They remain uncomfortable with each little episode that crops up along the way to the ending, but it’s a slightly different kind of discomfort each time, and never for long enough. They don't ring every ounce of comedic tension out of the situation.

Most importantly, Dippold and Levine go softer on Emily than a Schumer script would. As an actress, Schumer runs with what Dippold wrote and Levine instructed, but the self-criticism and the deeply rooted need to fix her characters’ problems never come together. That’s why Emily’s arc, which is supposed to depict personal growth, rings false. The movie -- especially Hawn’s delightful return to making people laugh -- pays lip service to the idea of Emily learning a lesson about being an entitled person. But it’s unclear whether Emily has truly come to care about her impact on herself or others. She seems a teensy bit more in control of her life, but it’s all done with suggestion rather than concrete growth. Emily is proven right: things work out in the end. She probably doesn’t deserve it, but there you have it. She’s the type of person Schumer would normally mock and drag through the mud.

But if Schumer were in charge, Emily would probably leave the movie as a person who is more useful to society.

Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Katie Dippold
Starring: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack, Wanda Sykes, Ike Barinholtz, Tom Bateman, Christopher Meloni, Óscar Jaenada
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Available in theaters now

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