Score: 2 stars ** out of 4 ****
After four seasons at the center of the beyond-edgy, multi-award-winning Comedy Central skit series “Inside Amy Schumer,” Amy Schumer (second cousin of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY) made the logical step to feature films and thus far has had a rough go at it. Of the now three movies where Schumer has played the comic female lead, “I Feel Pretty” is the second best (or second worst if you will) and further dulls her once dark, razor-sharp wit into blunt beige pedestrian blandness.
This film is wrong on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start.
Renee (Schumer) works in a New York basement running the online branch of “Lily LeClaire,” a cosmetics firm founded by the eponymous model (Lauren Hutton, as a version of herself in a welcomed extended cameo). Not “heavy” as such but easily qualifying as “zaftig,” the blonde Renee is a festering boil of insecurities. She thinks she’s fat and unattractive and uninteresting and would do anything to change it.
After some wine and inspiration divined while watching the circus scene in the Penny Marshall-directed film “Big,” Renee tosses a coin into a fountain wishing she was beautiful. Not smart, not insightful, not caring, not interesting — just beautiful. During an exercise class on a stationary bike, Renee crashes and burns and wakes up believing her wish has been granted. The trouble is only she believes it. She looks in the mirror and sees model-like perfection. Everyone else sees the same Renee.
Despite the slacked-jawed reactions from her friends (Busy Philipps, Aidey Bryant), the stunned bemusement from a possible love interest (a vanilla Rory Scovel as Ethan) and general “seriously?” looks from everyone else, Renee marches fearlessly onward, completely convinced that she is now dangerously hot and desirable. This leads to a less than lateral career move as a receptionist when Renee charms Lily’s granddaughter Avery (the pitch-perfect Michelle Williams), a wispy and malleable executive with a Betty Boop helium voice and her own set of self-image issues.
As Renee gains confidence, social stature, business connections, and the like, she starts behaving in a manner her previous self and her now distanced friends deplored. Renee’s ego shifts into overdrive and while on the first date with Ethan thinks the best thing to do would be entering a bikini contest. Meant to be rip-roaringly funny, it is instead demeaning, embarrassing to watch and — sad to say — an insult of all sorts to plus-sized women. The milquetoast Ethan — initially displaying guarded fascination — eventually concludes this brave, brazen, and bizarrely secure woman is just the right gal for him. Who knew that jiggling and grinding in front of skuzzy barflies equated to righteous female empowerment?
In following to a tee the tried-and-true romantic-comedy blueprint, longtime writing partners and first time co-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (Philipps’ off-screen husband) have Renee hit rock bottom then miraculously rise her from the ashes. That might sound like a spoiler but rest assured it is certainly not. It is the manner in which the filmmakers achieve this that is particularly troubling. They can’t for the life of them decide on which side of the physical/spiritually-aware fence they wish Renee to land and in the end chose both and neither.
This shouldn’t come as a big surprise once you take a glance at Kohn and Silverstein’s resume which includes the clunkers: “Never Been Kissed,” “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “Valentine’s Day,” “The Vow” and “How to Be Single.” All of these films have dealt in some form or fashion with the crushed romantic expectations of females and to a lesser extent, the promise of a light at the end of the metaphoric tunnel. Don’t worry — You Will Survive. It just might get ugly before you get there and probably not end in a way you ideally wanted.
“I Feel Pretty” could have (and probably should have) been written as an “R” rated movie which would have resulted in a more authentic mirror on modern American (or even global) expectations but that would have meant reduced box office and not reaching the ultimate target demographic: insecure American teen girls.
Let’s face the facts, of all sub-groups, U.S. females aged 13-19 are under the most pressure (real or imagined) to meet what is largely an unattainable body image, conceived and marketed mostly by women twice or thrice their age. The sole nugget of enlightenment delivered by Renee in the film is the idea of not using traditionally-idealistic models to market cosmetics to far-below ideal consumers of make-up, i.e., most American women.
“I Feel Pretty” is going to generate a whole lot of gnashed-teeth, white knuckle water-cooler chatter which, in its own way, is probably a net positive. Presenting a scenario of body image will get things started and tossing in a tumultuous plot like the one in this film will get it done. It would have been highly preferable to do so with a more focused and decisive movie that didn’t so much want it both ways.
Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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