Bonding Experience: Director Jonathan Levine Gets ‘Snatched’

The transition from TV to the big screen can be a tricky one. For every success story there are several who never quite make the jump from half-hour sketch comedies to feature films. Any concern that Amy Schumer’s upfront and emotionally honest style would struggle to gain traction with wider audiences was roundly dismissed upon the release of 2015’s Trainwreck, her first starring role in a feature film. The R-rated comedy grossed over $100 million and left viewers excited to see what project Schumer would take on next. The answer to that question finally arrives in theaters in May with the release of Snatched, a film that also marks Goldie Hawn’s first major big-screen role in over a decade. The comedy tells the story of an impetuous dreamer (Schumer) who brings her ultra-cautious mother (Hawn) with her on an exotic vacation following an unexpected break-up. What was supposed to be a relaxing holiday for the mismatched duo takes an unexpectedly perilous turn, and the two women must work together to escape the jungle—while trying not to get on each other’s nerves. Boxoffice spoke with Snatched director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Night Before) to find out more about how the project came together.

You’ve made a number of studio comedies. What was it about this project that stood out?

Blending genres has been always interesting to me, and I found this to be a sophisticated combination in that it starts as one thing and then takes a left turn to turn into a completely different kind of adventure. The other thing I liked was the core emotional journey that these two characters go on. I had just had my first child when I signed on to do it, and I kept on thinking about what it felt like to be a parent. This movie tells a very grounded emotional story—with R-rated hilarity thrown into the mix. It has the emotional core of one of my previous movies, 50/50, and the action-adventure elements of Pineapple Express or Romancing the Stone. It felt like a very cool way of looking at a relationship between a mother and a daughter.

When did Goldie Hawn get involved in the project? It’s great to see her in a studio comedy again.

Amy [Schumer] had been wanting to work with Goldie [Hawn], and we had a very long list of actors who could play the mom. I’m a big fan of Goldie’s and I wanted to meet and talk with her, since it had been such a long time since she’d worked. I wanted to get a better sense of where she was and what she thought about the project. What’s wonderful about Goldie is that she’s both a great comedian and a great actress. She nailed every grounded moment without conveying a false note. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Goldie Hawn after talking with her for five minutes, so I was pretty much sold right away. I think part of why she hadn’t worked for so long was that there weren’t enough good roles offered to her.

Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn are great at this type of comedy. What did you do as a director to help that chemistry shine on-screen?

When I first saw the two of them together, they had a natural chemistry. As a filmmaker, you facilitate that by creating an environment where people can feel free to express themselves. I’m inclined to allow actors to become storytellers along with me. We were all partners in this. I find that if you edit too early and give notes before an actor is able to find their groove in a scene, the chemistry can go completely haywire. You have to be careful not to try to fix something that was never broken in the first place, something that can solve itself after the first few takes. I don’t like to tinker too much.

How much did you stick to the script during the shoot?

It was an ever-evolving thing. [Screenwriter] Katie Dippold’s script was pretty complete, the architecture was already in place, but within that there were opportunities to tailor things to Goldie and Amy. From that point on, working with one of the world’s greatest improvisers like Amy, I didn’t want to get in the way of their talent. What we wanted to do here was a throwback to some of the great movies that Goldie was in during the 1980s, so we did have a more rigid approach to the execution than I had in my last movie, The Night Before, for example, where we had so many funny people that I just put them in front of the camera and let them go. This is a movie that is very controlled in terms of the adventure and depicting the mother-daughter arc.

Were there any other movies you had in mind in your approach to this project?

A lot of the [Robert] Zemeckis movies were big ones for me. I also watched a lot of action-comedies, like 21 Jump Street and Bad Boys 2. John Huston movies came up because of the adventure elements, things like Treasure of the Sierra Madre or The Night of the Iguana.

What sort of films interest you for your next project?

What was great about this experience was that I was able to tell an original story using a big palette; this is a movie with a big production value. That was really exciting for me. In the future I want to keep on doing movies with people I like, that can push peoples’ expectations a little bit. I’ve had dalliances with the comic book world—I still haven’t found the right thing but I think I could do a good job with one of those. My next project is going to be with Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron [Flarsky], a romantic comedy, which should be really fun. I’ve been lucky to meet collaborators like Seth Rogen, and now Amy Schumer, and get along with them so well through my work. Snatched is my sixth movie, and they’ve all felt totally different so far, so I’m looking forward to what comes next even if I don’t know what that will be.

Daniel Loria

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