There are two kinds of people, those who love Amy Schumer and those who despise her. Despite her polarizing reputation however Schumer has become a marketable star and has turned out a few comedy hits over the years to prove it. Her latest starring role is in “I Feel Pretty”, a film that attempts to balance drama and comedy to inspire women to be themselves. It does have a positive message and is good for a few laughs, but how well does it REALLY succeed in its mission? Let’s dig a little deeper. This is my review of “I Feel Pretty”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“I Feel Pretty” stars Amy Schumer as Renee, an “ordinary” woman who feels overwhelmed with the expectations society has set on females to be beautiful making her self-conscious and insecure. After she enrolls in a biking class an equipment malfunction causes her to hit her head, making her see herself as a beautiful model type in her own eyes but the rest of the world still sees her as she’s always been, at least physically. This leads Renee to embrace a new pep in her step as her own image of herself allows her to be more open, comfortable and spontaneous. In the process she asks out a guy named Ethan (Rory Scoval) who himself is insecure. She also applies for a job as a receptionist at the cosmetics company she works for earning the respect of her boss Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams) who has a hard time relating to lower class buyers as the company prepares to roll out a new line of discount products. Renee’s new confidence comes with a price however as she begins to transform into a pretentious and self-centered person focused on her own beauty, leading to a crossroads and conflict between her and her “normal” friends as well as Ethan while she faces realizations of her own self worth and the pressure society puts on women to be something they aren’t.
It’s a comedy so I wasn’t going in expecting Oscar-worthy performances here, but I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by not only the quality and entertainment value of the performances, but just how much some of the actors truly embraced their characters and made them their own. Amy Schumer leads the way as insecure Renee (I swear I didn’t mean for that to rhyme) who find herself living her fantasy after an accident causes her to see herself as beautiful as the gorgeous models she idolizes. Schumer brings her charm, charisma and witty humor to the table in full force, at times acting as the every girl and at other times reminding us just how nasty anyone can be about their looks and their ego. It’s a very good performance to lead a film with a questionable script and an only mildly satisfying story, but more on that later. Schumer takes this film to a level it would have never gotten to otherwise and in many ways her energy seems to resonate with everyone else in the cast making everyone around her that much better. Schumer may be a questionable comedian who focuses more on body humor than anything else, but performances like this are enough to remind us that she can carry a film when duty calls especially one that requires a balance of fun and sentiment.
My favorite performance though has to be Michelle Williams who I am learning more and more is massively underrated. Williams can do so much as an actress, but this is the first time I personally have seen her tackle a more comedic role. Williams plays Avery LeClaire, a well-off and beautiful cosmetic company boss who hires Renee and leans on her to help support a new discount line from the company. She’s ignorant and pretentious in many ways, but throughout the whole movie we see a more subtle part of her come out. She’s also insecure and just wants to do what’s best for her company. As the story progresses Williams manages to rip back the covers and reveal layers of her character to give us context and even some tender moments that prevent Avery from becoming a simple cliché. In a way she’s the antithesis of what many viewers probably assume a beautiful business leader would be. She’s not confident or secure, she’s confused and frustrated and that all plays into how Renee rubs off on those around her. To top it all off Williams adds this whiny, mousy little voice to the character that’s not only hilarious, it’s actually played off as part of Avery’s insecurity making it more than a gimmick. It’s a legitimate character trait and curse Avery feels like she has to bear and for the audience it’s entertaining and amusing making for some of the best humor in the film.
The rest of the cast shines bright as well. Rory Scovel plays a worthy love interest as Ethan who isn’t the normal guy you see in these movies. He has his own insecurities that keep him from taking the leap many times, but he’s the perfect compliment to Schumer’s Renee as he ends up finding something new in himself through his relationship with his newfound love. Other standout roles include Adrian Martinez as Mason, Renee’s socially awkward coworker and a major comedic relief in the film, as well as Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps who play Renee’s two best friend Vivian and Jane and act as both moral centers for the main character and examples of the “average woman” that are meant to contrast with the beautiful people Renee comes to embrace. While none of them are massive career-defining roles they do the job and they’re fun to watch with few feeling wasted. The only really true wasted performance in the movie is Tom Hopper as Grant, Avery’s brother, who is simply there to be eye candy to offer Renee a conflict to deal with in the third act.
One of the biggest criticisms of this film has been its inability or unwillingness to go all out with its concept and while I did have my issues with how the movie ends and how it builds up to its story, the second act shined as the best representation of the central message. We spend some time getting to know Renee and seeing how she sees herself as undesirable because of her looks, even going so far as to engage in a monologue-style rant with her friends about how dating site users only focus on the picture not the personality. It offers some sharp commentary on how people find love these days and how women specifically are expected to look a certain way in order to gain a man’s affection, even before they get to know them. Once Renee is given the opportunity to see herself as the beautiful woman she wants to be in the second act she opens up revealing the carefree personality that this movie wants everyone to embrace in their own lives. On the surface “I Feel Pretty” succeeds in giving us a fine example of how much better one’s own life could be with a simple change of perspective and how contagious that positive outlook is as well. Just by being a more upbeat person we see Renee play a role in transforming several people into better human beings more aware of their faults and more confident with shedding their outer shells. While the setup is a bit convoluted and the results just as unrealistic it’s nice to see a film challenge societal norms in that way without necessarily victimizing the beautiful women Renee emulates.
That brings me to my favorite aspect of this project. While it does offer some very obvious commentary on how we perceive beauty, “I Feel Pretty” doesn’t really have a bad guy and that’s not a bad thing. By the end of the film Renee comes to realize the stupidity of her own negative self-image and that’s because she, and the audience, get to see some tender moments that reveal a model’s life isn’t a perfect one. Looks don’t guarantee happiness, but a positive attitude can help and the message effectively avoids being anti-beauty and becomes more about self-identity than what the world makes you out to be based on the outside alone. It’s an empowering message and really is the best part of this movie even if it’s sidelined by a failed final act and a flawed story. Even the male lead, love interest Ethan, has to undergo a transformation where his own confidence is boosted after he himself realizes the stupidity of his own insecurities. Despite the material being subpar somehow “I Feel Pretty” manages to resonate all the same. It’s a relatively deep and charming story that’s relevant for the time and never takes itself too seriously. That might be a compliment more to the actors than anything else.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
The problem is, as I stated above, all of that sentiment is book ended by a convoluted setup and conclusion that take away from the message in many ways. The only reason Renee has her change of personality is because of an injury, one that makes her think she’s gorgeous and that she has undergone a “BIG” style transformation…no really, they even make her watch the movie “BIG” to hammer that home. The fact that all of her evolution as a person is the cause of a head injury just seems forced, uninspired and waters down the transformation making it feel less sincere. This is addressed later in the movie during the third act but even then the closure is rushed and ineffective as we get a swift and predictable end to the main conflicts of the film that basically doesn’t change as much for Renee as we’re meant to believe. This is where the movie fails in going all in. It follows a typical story structure and doesn’t truly own its goal of teaching women that inner beauty is more important than what’s on the outside. Without spoiling the final act of the film we see Renee’s life fall apart for several reasons forcing her to reexamine who she is but the fact that she thought her beauty was real corrupts the idea that her inner beauty even matters at all. When she finally sees herself for who she really is and we get that typical emotion-driven moment of realization that comes with any comedy it just feels flat because we spent the whole movie seeing a woman define herself based on a lie.
“I Feel Pretty” is also a little short in the laughs department although that’s not to say it’s a boring comedy because it does work…just not as well as I had hoped. This might actually be due to the balance of drama and comedy which would normally be a highlight of a film but with that approach you have to make every comedic moment count and “I Feel Pretty” just doesn’t. It does try hard and it starts off with Adrian Martinez’s Mason becoming the early comic relief and Schumer turning in a few funny jokes here and there. The second act also offers its fair share of laughs, but overall I felt many of the jokes were unoriginal or literal interpretations of Schumers own stand-up routines. They made me chuckle, but they were forgotten as easily as they were probably written and most of the better jokes were wasted in the commercials for the film, so you already know they’re coming. Still it got more laughs from me than most comedies do these days so in the grand scheme of things “I Feel Pretty” might be worth a look if you’re easily amused. I for one am not, but I’m a cinema cynic. All the same I do commend “I Feel Pretty” for balancing its deeper message with its lighter tone better than most.
“I Feel Pretty” isn’t going to take home any awards, but that’s not to say it’s unwatchable. It has its chuckle-worthy moments and the cast seems to be all in which does make for a satisfying comedy experience to some extent. The message the film presents can be heard loud and clear and the second act in particular is a strong representation of what the writers truly wanted to say. As empowering and inspirational as “I Feel Pretty” wants to be however, in the end it falls flat due to a lack of creativity and execution in its writing and story. Critics are right to say this film fails to go all in on everything that it stands for and that could have easily been remedied with a little more creative thinking. All the same “I Feel Pretty” has heart and is a charming female-driven comedy led by a woman who has become somewhat of a representative of the “not-so-perfect woman” crowd and having pride in who you are regardless of what people think of you on the outside. The film also takes the time to try to inspire men to embrace the same elevations as the women and, in many ways, humanizes those beauty queens we all see on magazines every day. So while it’s flawed and could have been a whole lot better “I Feel Pretty” does just enough to be a passable comedy experience and proof that Amy Schumer can still get the job done.