Snatched has some inarguably impressive credentials. Directed by 50/50 and Warm Bodies’ Jonathan Levine, written by The Heat and Ghostbusters’ Katie Dippold and starring Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer as mother and daughter, this feels like a no-brainer comedy hit.
Strangely, what we get is barely a comedy – there are ten-minute laugh deserts scattered through much of the film’s running time – but instead a very pleasant, occasionally quite sweet movie you could watch with your mom if it weren’t quite so R-rated.
The rating’s weird, really. Snatched only goes far enough with the raunchiness to make your mom (okay, let’s be honest, I’m talking about my mom here) a little uncomfortable, but never does enough with it to make it worth that alienation of what should be about half of its core audience. This isn’t targeting the Bad Moms crowd, young, hip mothers taking a margarita break from their toddlers. This is for grown daughters and their mothers, the Schumer and Hawn set, but I can’t quite imagine joining my mom for a movie in which Schumer washes her vagina in a public restroom before hooking up with a rando. (That said, I laughed.)
Schumer plays Emily Middleton, a lackadaisical thirty-something who opens the film getting fired from her retail job after a spectacular show of indifference. Her boyfriend breaks up with her right before a nonrefundable trip to Ecuador, and she’s estranged herself from all of her friends to such a degree that none of them take her up on an offer of a free vacation. So who’s left?
Her mom, Linda (Hawn), an overly nervous, cat-obsessed woman whose life has grown much smaller since Emily’s dad left her years ago. Linda lives with Emily’s brother Jeffrey (the ever-reliable Ike Barinholtz), a co-dependent weirdo who never leaves the house and calls her Mama (pronounced muh-MAH, like an adorable British urchin). Linda needs a vacation, Emily needs a vacation buddy, and Snatched needs an inciting event.
The vacation doesn’t go well even before they’re kidnapped. Emily’s hard-partying lifestyle is at odds with Linda’s heightened sense of risk-aversion, and anyway they’re mother and daughter, so they get on each other's nerves. But once they’re abducted by, I’m not sure, Ecuadorian thugs?, they have to work through their lifelong issues to escape with their lives.
The stakes feel much smaller than that. This is a remarkably un-scary kidnapping. Linda and Emily never seem like they’re in any real danger, which would be fine if Snatched were more overtly a comedy, but since it’s not really that either, the film feels like it’s dropping the ball in multiple ways. But there is one area of the narrative that is properly served: Linda and Emily’s relationship. There’s no romance to speak of in Snatched, in pleasant defiance of expectation. The relationship we’re rooting for here is between mother and daughter, played by two of our best-loved comedic actresses. Schumer’s good, though missing the depth she brought to Trainwreck, but Hawn – starring in a film for the first time in fifteen years, and how did we let a lapse like that happen? – is great. She’s as charming and adorable and warmly wacky as ever, a true joy to see onscreen again.
And it’s not that there are no laughs, they’re just more sparsely represented than what typically constitutes a comedy. Many of the best moments come from Barinholtz or from Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, who play a bizarre but delightful “platonic” couple that Emily and Linda meet in the resort. And there’s plenty of humor to be mined from the clueless racism Linda and Emily show while in Ecuador. A movie about white women getting abducted in South America feels problematic from the onset, but Snatched is wise to make Linda’s xenophobia and Emily’s equally troubling cultural exploitation part of the film’s plot and their own character arcs. When Emily gets access to a phone, she calls the State Department and cries that they are “Americans in peril,” a statement that garners less sympathy and springing-into-action than she seems to expect.
Ultimately, Snatched is caught in a grey area between comedy and action, leaving us with a movie that is neither very funny nor terribly exciting. But it knows well enough to rely on its two extremely likable stars and on the eternally complex dynamic between mother and daughter, a dynamic interesting and well-developed enough to make this otherwise lackluster film worth a watch.