Amy Schumer's comedy about the power of confidence mixes its messages about body image, but provides some laughs nonetheless.
How would your life change if you felt undeniably beautiful? What if you woke up one day and all the flaws that you see in yourself have disappeared? Would you go after a romantic partner, or a job you’ve always wanted? Do you think it would really make you happy, or is being beautiful a bit more overrated? Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein’s directorial debut I Feel Pretty addresses these questions, and answers them with Hollywood’s typical double standards on the concept of inner beauty.
Amy Schumer plays Renee Bennett, a woman who is obsessed with her attractiveness – or rather, her perceived lack of attractiveness. She sees herself surrounded by model-beautiful women, and feels that she can’t compete. This obsession consumes her thoughts and actions, believing that her life’s problems would disappear if she was “undeniably beautiful.”
While she diets, exercises, and throws a penny into a fountain during a thunderstorm, Renee can’t seem to shake off her average appearance – until she hits her head in an unfortunate SoulCycle accident. When she wakes up, she has transformed into a vision of statuesque perfection; the object of male desire and female envy. At least that’s what she thinks; the audience can see that Renee hasn’t changed, and her new gorgeous body is all in her head.
A high concept movie’s success is dependent on how well the concept holds up. Does this one? Not really. The premise might work for a sketch, but for a comedy that’s about two hours long, it runs thin – especially since most of the laughs are supposed to come from this disconnect between what Renee thinks she looks like and what she actually looks like. If you don’t think that Amy Schumer thinking she’s really hot is funny, then a lot of these jokes won’t land. In many ways, this film is very much her brand – a raunchy, sexually aggressive woman who’s not typical Hollywood plastic – but when placed against realistic standards the concept rings hollow. Schumer is an attractive woman, so why are people acting like she’s a 2 when on her worst day she’s a 7?
In the third act, it’s implied that Renee’s unattractiveness is really all in her head, and what was really holding her back was her lack of confidence. But before the incident, there’s no indication that her feelings aren’t justified – once she thinks she’s beautiful, the comments and reactions from just about everyone except her love interests lead us to believe that everyone thinks that she isn’t. The gag would have landed better if Kohn and Silverstein had hinted early on that people found Renee attractive, or at least played off her desire to become a receptionist (simply because it’s a validation that she is beautiful enough to be the “face of the company”) as silly.
Yes, Renee’s dream job is to become a receptionist for her current employer, beauty company Lily LaClaire. At the start of the film, Renee works for their e-commerce department in a small Chinatown office; fortunately for her, her new boost of confidence coincides with the founder’s granddaughter, Avery LaClaire (Michelle Williams), launching a diffusion line. Avery hires Renee as a way to gain insight into what women who aren’t insanely wealthy and beautiful want (so much for focus groups). Renee’s insight and work ethic convinces Avery to promote her to VP of Diffusion Lines. While the job change has to happen for Renee to get in with the higher ups, it is odd that the film never portrays seeking a lower position just because the position focuses on looks as an odd choice.
Renee’s launch into the upper echelons of the beauty industry turns the last half of the second act into the typical “success changes you” subplot that is honestly pretty tired at this point. All the normal plot beats are there: she becomes rude to less attractive clientele, she abandons her friends to hang out with the more ‘hip’ women, and she almost has an affair with Avery’s bother, Grant (Tom Hopper). It’s all cut-and-dried, and the concept doesn’t do enough to elevate these clichés.
That said, I Feel Pretty still has a lot of highs among its muddled premise – Schumer gives the role her all, playing Renee as mousey and shy in the first act, and then switches to her patently outrageous bravado when she has the accident to beautiful effect. Renee’s love interest, Ethan (Rory Scovel), is sweet and lovable, and the actors have great chemistry. Michelle Williams’ high-pitched, upper crust voice elicits chuckles out of even the most banal lines. In fact, most of the jokes that aren’t related to Renee thinking she’s hot are funny, and if the film had put less focus on the concept, and focused on Renee’s journey of finding worth in work and relationships, this film would have worked a lot better.
In the end, I Feel Pretty doesn’t entirely work as a girl-power manifesto for the power of confidence to overcome societal standards of beauty. However, it does offer some feel good moments, and the message is important. If you’re feeling down about your appearance, watching this may make you feel a little bit better. But more than likely, you’ll feel annoyed that someone as attractive as Amy Schumer is portrayed as plain.
I Feel Pretty vamps confidently into theaters Friday, April 20th.