Much has already been written about the latest from comedic actress Amy Schumer, I Feel Pretty. It’s been accused of fat shaming some of its characters and basically just portraying women as shallow, judgmental creatures of the highest degree. And that’s just based on the, admittedly misleading, trailer.
In fact, the feature debut from co-writers/-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (the writing team behind Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You, and How to Be Single) is more about confidence and self-esteem—more specifically, the lack of both within lead character Renee Bennett (Schumer), who sees herself in the mirror and can’t feel anything but disappointed.
As jokey and frustratingly silly as the film can get at times, it never treats Renee’s moments of self-evaluation as a joke. Instead, it uses her low sense of worth as the connective tissue that explains her depressing job working in a windowless satellite office of high-end cosmetics company or her lack of luck with online dating sites. Renee is a difficult character to throw our full support behind because there are great things in her life that she’s ignoring, especially the support of her two best friends, Vivian (“SNL’s” Aidy Bryan) and Jane (Busy Philipps, who just happens to be the real-life spouse of filmmaker Silverstein).
One of the ways Renee attempts to better herself in her own eyes is by taking a spin class at her local gym, where she meets an often depressed woman (supermodel Emily Ratajkowski) looking for a shoulder to cry on. But Renee is so frustrated that a woman with this person’s looks sees her life as rough, it naturally only makes her angrier about her own existence.
But after an accident on a stationary bike leads to a severe bop to the head, Renee wakes up from this mild concussion and sees an entirely different, utterly perfect (by her shallow definition) woman, which instantly leads to her have more confidence than any human being should be legally allowed to display. In her eyes, the transformation is so radical that she assumes not even her oldest friends will recognize her, let alone be able to relate to her new vision of herself.
Before the accident, Renee’s harshest critic about her looks was Renee, and it’s clear that the way she saw herself cast a gloom around her that everyone could see. But Renee 2.0 (thankfully, the filmmakers never show us the version of Renee that she now sees) is brimming with self-esteem and it gives her the nerve to approach men, apply for a new position at her company in the main office, and even enter a bikini contest at a dive bar. And somehow she makes it work and it empowers her in a way that people respond to her, even if they think she’s a bit insane…for the most part. The people who loved her company before her “transformation” grow increasingly annoyed at this better-than-thou version of Renee, who is now capable of partying with a better class of people, in her mind.
She also begins dating a genuinely nice guy (Rory Scovel) and makes friends with the head of the makeup company (a scene-stealing comic turn by Michelle Williams), who is burdened with her own esteem-crushing trait—a high-pitched voice that makes her sound like a seven year old. In addition to Ratajkowski, the film does pepper in a few other famous models in its cast, including Lauren Hutton as Williams mother and former head of the company, and Naomi Campbell as another company big wig, who eventually becomes impressed with Renee’s thoughts on a more mass-market line of cosmetics to be sold to “normal” women (which she is no longer, mind you, but she remembers the days).
Walking into I Feel Pretty, I didn’t actually realize it marks Schumer’s first dalliance into PG-13 territory. On the one hand, I applaud the idea that the film’s messages about living boldly and fearlessly no matter what can be seen by teenagers, some of whom need to have these ideas knocked into their head, whether they are experiencing low self-esteem or are bullying people who don’t line up with their idea of beauty.
But it also feels like Schumer and company are playing it safe and sacrificing what could have been a genuinely funny film by toning things down to reach a wider audience. Combined that with the fact that some of the moments of physical humor feel distractingly out of place in a film in which a woman must realize that she has every reason to be proud of who she is because she’s just a cool person, and this is in no way to be tied to her looks.
The dominating issue with I Feel Pretty is that it isn’t especially funny, which seems doubly disappointing because the messages and themes of the film are there just looking for a way to be fully realized and forcefully delivered. I’m not saying having the movie be R-rated would have fixed that, but it might have been a step in the right direction, if only to power things home with feeling.
There are some nice moments. When Scovel’s boyfriend character confesses why he finds Renee so lovable, you can’t help but be moved. Most of the scenes with Williams are terrific because you can’t stop laughing at her voice, but you also realize that makes you part of the problem in her life. When we begin to realize that the true heart of the film belongs to the three girlfriends, it hits home, especially when Renee’s behavior threatens to fracture their bond.
I tend to believe I Feel Pretty is a closer call than people are going to admit, but for me, a comedy needs to be funny for me to fully recommend it. As much as I admire what it’s trying to do, there are too many jokes that fall flat and that sullies everything around it.