Movie Review: I Feel Pretty
Based on the 2015 Comedy Central sketch ‘New Body’ — in which we saw Amy Schumer shopping for a new hot bod– we now get a two hour feature film based on a two minute sketch (that was already a little too long to begin with), though here, unlike the admittedly clever sketch, ‘I Feel Pretty’ selfishly wants to have its cake and eat it too. The beauty of this premise when shrunk into an attractive size (two minutes), is its equally wistful and knowing attack on the cultural standards of self-image and the beauty industry as a whole. Shaming the capitalist marketing technique of “you’re not good enough”… so buy our product, an idea Schumer captured magnificently. Though here, it seems to shy away from such an attack, catering to an equally powerful premise of a woman’s confidence and self esteem, just seen in different effect. Does it have us laugh at our hero for being confident? Is it assaulting the philosophy of being individualistic? Maybe Schumer really did hit her head.
The film is really a fairy tale of sorts. Centering around a middle age New Yorker (Renee) who dreams of one day becoming a bombshell, or more importantly having equally stunning men hit on her around Manhattan, or more simply, be able fit into shoes that are not labeled double wide 9 1/2’s at SoulCycle. Her aspirations do come true, as well as her professional ones, which means scoring the dream job of being a receptionist at a superlative cosmetics company Leclair, which she believes equates to being the face of the company. After all, she is the first face people see when they walk in the door.
Like all notable fairy tales, the magic materializes overnight. Midway through her tub of ice cream, she hears Tom Hanks declare from her T.V. screen “I want to be Big!” This is followed by an unorthodox cut to her making a wish at her local fountain, though of course, this one was inverse to Hanks’. She wants to feel pretty, which by America’s standards, means anything but big.
The next day at SoulCycle, she hits her head in true visual comedy fashion, in other words, in the most over-the top way imaginable. Though what she sees in the mirror when she gets up isn’t the same body and personality she has been trying to shake for decades, but a new woman, one of strutting confidence that isn’t afraid to get wet and wild at a bikini show, a personality that isn’t afraid to put preconceived ideologies on manner to rest (for our entertainment, I might add), albeit her appearance remains the same. The person she becomes, to our dismay, also embodies the very same posh pompous prestige she had grown to loathe. Setting aside her friends for business, as she manifests the idea that being model-esque is the model for a good life. And the worst part about it is, despite de-railing from her past humane self, she never learns her lesson, well, at least not until it’s time for her to hit herself in the head again. Only to find out “there’s no magic?”. Yes Renee, there is no magic, it just so happens your movie is lacking in that department as well.
Thankfully first time directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein don’t take the shallow churlish humor route seen in ‘Shallow Hal’, where body shaming could simply be a means for an exercise of futility. Rather, they meander down the equally weathered and familiar trails of movies like ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, ’13 going 30′, and ‘Big’ while blending into the shadows of overused tropes from late 70’s rom-coms.
For a movie that equally preaches confidence and being oneself, this movie is wildly unoriginal, one that’s clearly not comfortable in its own skin. Amy Schumer, to no one’s surprise, is unconditionally fearless in her condition. And though she doesn’t exactly fit the bill for being typecast as an overweight woman marginalized by appearance–she is relatively ordinary in size and looks– that doesn’t stop Schumer from being a knockout. Hurling herself head first into a demanding role, where she must be brazen and canny, shy and unreserved, and altogether, be the incredible woman that she is. Wonderfully contrasting the timid love interest Ethan (Rory Scovel), who she naturally assumes is hitting on her at the dry cleaners when he asks for her dry cleaning number, “Oh, so this is how it happens”, “don’t chicken out now son”. And it is this assurance that draws Ethan and others to her spell, which begs us to question, why is it that the only time success falls upon Renee occurs after she undergoes a delusional makeover?
If it weren’t for such an incident, she would never ascend the corporate hierarchy of Leclair, and ultimately never befriend that shockingly squeaky-voiced insecure head of company Michelle Williams, who delivers an excellent performance as a should be snotty political scarecrow that comes with a brain, as she dances in and out of empathy like Gene Kelly would rain.
In the end ‘I Feel Pretty’ doesn’t give us much to sing about. The tone is as all over the place mirroring the constantly contradicting message. And it rarely gives us anything to laugh about either. Whereas it does mean well–some audience members may even muster the courage to laugh at a few pop culture jokes– it would be a disservice to the reader to dismiss all its crude put downs for simply trying to do the right thing.
A good comedy is a thing of beauty, antithetical however, a bad one is not pretty. ‘I Feel Pretty’ is neither pretty nor is it beautiful, in fact, it flirts with becoming a train-wreck. Mirroring those before and after tutorial videos that time-lapse a model’s before-and-after makeup transformation, fabricating an “ideal” image of elegance, we she that she was already stunning to begin with. It shouts from the rooftops “you are beautiful, you are an individual,” begging woman worldwide to coalesce in confidence, though in the end it eulogizes the very same blemishes it set out to diminish. Where one could ignore this and view the movie at face value, no amount of makeup can cover up the way the movie summons us to laugh at a woman’s features, only to turn around and lecture us for doing just that–that is assuming that we were laughing in the first place.