'I Feel Pretty'
‘I Feel Pretty’ is a film that wants it all – broad comedy, social impact, moments of pathos and self-reflection. That’s a laudable goal. Any reticence about it will come down to just how much you buy into its premise and the charms of its lead actress.
It’s telling that, at one part of the film, lead character Renee (Amy Schumer) watches a clip from the 1988 switcheroo tale ‘Big’. ‘I Feel Pretty’ shares a similarly preposterous premise that’s drawn out to tell a larger story of identity, acceptance and finding oneself through radical change. The difference here is that it’s all in Renee’s head.
Renee is a curvy woman in a stick-thin world of models and Soul Cyclers. Working in a dingy room for a cosmetics company, she yearns for the glamour of the head office uptown. Wishing to no longer feel frumpy, she throws a coin into a fountain mid-storm in the hope of a physical transformation. After being concussed in a spin class fail, she looks in the mirror and sees herself as she wants to be. Those around her are nonplussed or confused, but her newfound confidence sees her quickly overcoming her circumstances and using her assets to the fullest. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, the film teaches us, but sometimes it requires cranial distress to see that.
Yes, it’s drivel, but thanks to Schumer’s committed performance (along with the likes of Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps as her best friends) the film does manage moments of charm. Powerhouse talents like Michelle Williams show up mousy-voiced and insecure, and somehow through it all we’re encouraged to remember that even the rich, powerful and traditionally stunning have their own problems too.
The film is helmed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, a directorial debut from the duo who previously scripted the likes of ‘Never Been Kissed’, ‘He’s Just Not That into You’ and ‘How to Be Single’. They’re treading on a long track record of crafting this kind of middlebrow, ribald rom-com. What sets this one apart is Schumer’s deep dive into her character, which takes the self-effacing aspect that made her show and standup such a delight for many, adds in a bit of her caustic, assholian nature and crafts, improbably, a Renee that you both kind of love and hate simultaneously.
While set in New York, the film definitely has a California vibe, with the specific obsessions about image far more indicative of the shallow sunniness of the West Coast, given the lack of need for bulbous, wintery overcoats. We see a land where the average-sized Schumer is considered zaftig and out of the norm, with the film playing with the surreal image of the runway-thin critters littering the cosmetics firm. It’s a Robert Palmer video come to life, but like many of the film’s references, that image might be too dated for most of the demographic interested in the movie in the first place.
There are attempts at sophistication and reflection – take the somewhat touching moment where one of Renee’s model friends opens up about her own body-shaming issues – but things never rise to the level of biting social commentary that might lift and separate the work from its peers. However, it would be disingenuous to say the film is only shaped by its flaws. It has jokes that land, supporting characters that seem well-rounded, and a kind of feel-good story with enough bite to separate it somewhat from a pack of forgettable chick flicks.
In the end, there’s an audience for ‘I Feel Pretty’ that will find a movie that works far better than the quite risible trailer would lead one to believe. It may be faint praise to lump on it, but maybe middling is all that’s to be extracted from this kind of premise, making this the best version of this story that would likely be executed. Taken on its own terms, it’s a confident storyline about confidence that tackles real issues of delusion and body dysmorphia in a way that still manages to be sweet and caustic at the same time. Maybe that’s just enough.
‘I Feel Pretty’ may not set the world on fire, but equally it could make you feel that a bit more confidence can’t be a bad thing (even if that revelation is driven by head trauma). It’s a razor thin storyline filled out by Schumer’s charms, and while it may treat deeper issues with a lightness that may be jarring or superficial, there’s enough going on here presented by some truly talented individuals that the movie is worthy of at least some attention.