Review: Bumbling ‘I Feel Pretty’ has a beauty complex
Amy Schumer is way too smart to be attached to a movie as clunky and backward-looking as “I Feel Pretty,” a flat comedy which attempts to take on beauty standards and issues of body positivity but can’t think of anything fresh to say about either.
“I Feel Pretty” would barely cut it as a sketch on “Inside Amy Schumer.” Schumer plays Renee, a New Yorker working at the low end of the online department of Lily LeClaire, a top line cosmetics company; her basement office, a metaphor for her station in life, is basically Milton’s from “Office Space.” She dreams of working at the reception desk and being the front and center face of the company, but she’s not a size 0, so she doesn’t fit the traditional model mold.
One day at spin class, Renee falls off her bike and bonks her head, and when she comes to she sees herself the way she’s always wanted to, as “undeniably pretty.” Unlike in “Shallow Hal,” the Farrelly Brothers comedy from which “I Feel Pretty” takes structural cues, there’s no double vision tricks at play; it’s a body-swapping comedy, minus the body-swapping. She’s the same-old Renee, but with a change in attitude.
Now she’s confident, and that confidence allows her to be her best self. She approaches Ethan (Rory Scovel, “The House”), a man she meets at her dry cleaners, asks for his phone number and then calls him for a date. She enters a bikini contest at a skeevy bar and nearly wins simply because of how she carries herself. And she strolls into the office of Lily LeClaire and nabs that desk job she wanted out of her sheer force of will.
So the film’s message is to be proud of who you are and good things will happen. That’s easy to stand behind. But “I Feel Pretty” then gets tripped up in screenwriting mechanics, and in an abrupt about face, Renee’s character is forced to turn on her close friends (played by Busy Philipps and “SNL’s” Aidy Bryant) and lust after the studly Grant (Tom Hopper), the brother of her boss. The transition is so sudden it feels like three scenes explaining it were cut. Renee then hits her head again, realizes no physical transformation had ever taken place, and must learn to regain her confidence all over again.
It’s all the kind of mish-mashed messaging you could see Schumer lampooning in her stand-up act. In the outdated world “I Feel Pretty” asks us to buy into, fit and skinny is in, curves are out. And in this problematic mold, those with conventional good looks are not allowed to have bad days or to feel unsure about themselves. When a character played by “Blurred Lines” supermodel Emily Ratajkowski expresses her low self-esteem issues, Renee tells her flatly, “I want to punch you right in your dumb face right now.” In looking to upend traditional beauty ideals, “I Feel Pretty” winds up reinforcing them.
Further — and just as detrimental — “I Feel Pretty” is stale as a comedy, with long stretches of the film going entirely laugh-free. Many of “I Feel Pretty’s” issues could be forgiven if it provided a steady stream of on-target jokes, but the film — the directorial debut of “Never Been Kissed” and “How to be Single” screenwriting duo Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein — never finds a sustainable comic rhythm. (The best laughs are provided by four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams who, in a rare comic turn plays a cosmetics line executive with a high-pitched baby voice.)
There’s definitely a movie to be made that takes on society’s obsession with appearance in a sharp, focused manner, but “I Feel Pretty” isn’t it. In its clumsy approach, it sets back the conversation about beauty, rather than pushing it forward.
Talk about shallow.
‘I Feel Pretty’
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some partial nudity, and language
Running time: 110 minutes