A film review by Craig J. Koban August 8, 2018

I FEEL PRETTY j

2018, PG-13, 110 mins.

 

Amy Schumer as Renee Bennett  /  Michelle Williams as Avery LeClaire  /  Busy Philipps as Jane  /  Aidy Bryant as Vivian  /  Naomi Campbell as Helen  /  Tom Hopper as Grant LeClair  /  Lauren Hutton as Lily LeClaire  /  Adrian Martinez as Mason  /  Chloe Hurst as Greta

Written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

 

 

I FEEL PRETTY is a new comedy with awfully sweet and honorable intentions in terms of its core message and themes, but the manner with which it executes them is kind of maddeningly sloppy and counterproductive.   

Without question, this latest Amy Schumer starring vehicle - via its somewhat high concept narrative - advocates a message of believing in oneself and the overall importance of having inner self confidence in terms of how people define their identities, but then it really fumbles the ball in terms of grossly miscalculating its usage of fat shamming humor to help sell its message.  In many respects, I FEEL PRETTY distressingly wants to have it both ways: It wants to tell a story of how a plus-sized woman learns to respect herself for who she is while turning a blind eye to body positivity and projecting this same poor soul through a series of physically and emotionally debasing scenes that uses her girth for the purposes of cheap laughs.  Beyond that, I FEEL PRETTY is also terribly negligent of being chronically unfunny and utilizing one too many overused Hollywood genre conventions as well. 

Schumer is a comedic silver screen performer whose past movie work has been inconsistently good at best.  I thoroughly enjoyed her in the brash, yet tender and funny TRAINWRECK, but found her follow-up in the cross border abduction comedy SNATCHED to be mostly forgetable.  Schumer's stand up work has challenged ideas of woman's roles in the industry, and as an on-screen presence she has a relatable, everywoman charm that makes her self-deprecatingly authentic.  She brings ample spunk and commitment to her role in I FEEL PRETTY, but even her commendable dedication on display can't save a film muddled, overly long, messily edited, and containing far too many mixed messages that all conspire and work against one another.  I FEEL PRETTY is proof positive that you can have a very appealing actress front and center in a comedy that's all but undone by multiple creative missteps.   

 

 

Schumer stars here as a deeply insecure young woman named Renee, who acknowledges that she is clearly overweight, not drop dead gorgeous, and, as a negative result, sees many opportunities pass her by because she doesn't look like a glamour magazine cover model.  During one particularly nasty Manhattan spin class she takes an awful fall, hits her head, and when she regains consciousness and looks in the mirror she somehow believes that she's been magically transformed into a knockout bombshell that she has always dreamed of becoming.  With a newfound headstrong assuredness, Renee believes that she can conquer just about any roadblock in her way, including climbing the corporate ladder at the cosmetic company that she works at.  Yet, what she is blissfully unaware of is that she has not physically changed...at all...and remains just the same as she did pre-accident to everyone else around her, which makes just about every encounter she has with friends and work colleagues all the more awkward. 

Now, I see where I FEEL PRETTY was going with this material.  Society at large has been supremely guilty of informing and aggressively encouraging woman to second-guess their relative attractiveness and physical worthiness for as long as there have been movies.  When we're bombarded with a constant stream of images of the ideal woman it forces people to hyper scrutinize their most minute flaws in the most unhealthy ways, leading many to become obsessively perfectionist with attaining the unattainable.  Even truly beautiful woman have become so blindsided by examining their inherent limitations - no matter how minor - that having any semblance of self-esteem is nearly impossible.  These are unquestionably important and timely themes that are worthy of exploration. 

But, dear Lord, I FEEL PRETTY is too dumbed down as a frequent over-the-top comedy to explore them with any really weight, even when it paradoxically thinks it's thoroughly dealing with them.  One thing that I think the film does right is that it keeps Renee's perception of her newfound beauty all in her head.  Since no one else around her can see this attractiveness it stands to reason that we the audience shouldn't see what she sees in the mirror.  That would have been cheating a bit.  The film also scores some much needed points in a romantic comedy subplot involving Renee courting Ethan (a rather fine Rory Scovel), an affable chap that, like Renee early in the film, is deeply insecure of himself as an average nobody, but is impressed and enamored with how Renee seems to radiate positive energy.  He becomes attracted to her unending spunk and inner fortitude to take life on headfirst.  The chemistry that Scovel and Schumer have is natural and unforced and arguably the best element of I FEEL PRETTY, so much so that I almost wished the entire movie was about them and skipped the more fantastical body image switch premise. 

Man, this movie means well.  It really does.  Self-hatred of one's body is such a damaging force.  Maybe this is why I ultimately found I FEEL PRETTY so off-puttingly shameless, because it really wants to market itself and make us riotously laugh at all of the demeaning social indiscretions Renee goes through every day and then make us feel for her and her kind as she makes a spiritual transformation.  There's something unavoidably strange in the way I FEEL PRETTY wants to have its cake and eat it too, especially for the way it encourages us to chuckle at woman like Renee at her poor expense while begging us to care for her plight.  The resulting whiplash effect is hard to ignore. 

One arc of the film left a supremely bad taste in my mouth.  When Renee thinks she's exquisitely beautiful after her accident she believes she's a shoe-in to get a coveted receptionist job at her cosmetics company, and its squeaky voiced Barbie doll like CEO Avery LeClair (Michelle Williams, joyously embodying offbeat weirdness in one of the film's sublime highlights) is so impressed with Renee's passion that she hires her on the spot.  Latter in the film LeClair and her underlines are desperately trying to come up with a way to peddle their latest brand of cosmetics to low end and insecure ugly ducklings, because getting their money is the best thing for business.  Predictably, Renee becomes involved in this new marketing campaign as a consultant, mostly because she can use her past perceived ugliness to help her bosses sell consumer goods to other ugly women.  This all builds to a bewilderingly wrongheaded climax that pathetically tries to show Renee fully becoming self-actualized by realizing that her worth is well beyond looks, and she crashes the product launch and gives a would-be impassioned speech about women accepting themselves for who they really are.  Some may be moved by the sentimentality of this moment, but I was driven to reach for a barf bag. 

I FEEL PRETTY simply doesn't work.  It's a broken film of noble intentions.  Plus, it succumbs to cheap and stale genre contrivances (anyone with a decent head on their shoulder will be able to foresee where this film is heading with numbing predictability).  There was also some opportunities for the film to perhaps be an edgy and satiric takedown of the modern cosmetic industry and how they ruthlessly prey on women like Renee, but having a plot where she works within said industry and then uses it to propel her renewed feelings of worth seems frustratingly paradoxical.  I FEEL PRETTY really seems to turn a blind eye to how corporations profit from insecurity.  Lastly, the movie simply didn't make me laugh enough, which is an all too important element for all screen comedies to warrant a solid recommendation.  There's also something to be said about I FEEL PRETTY not really being altogether fresh and novel, seeing as other comedies of the distant past like SHALLOW HAL and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR tackled a similar premise.  

And maybe, just maybe, people dealing with cripplingly bad self-worth and body disturbance issues isn't really all that amusing when it boils down to it.  Just sayin'. 

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