Movie Review: I Feel Pretty
Amy Schumer can't make this message-bearing comedy really work.
As one of the dozen or so people who liked last year's Amy Schumer film, Snatched, I wish I could muster more enthusiasm for her new one. I Feel Pretty tells the story of a New Yorker named Renee Bennett—a Website worker for a high-end cosmetics company—who is depressed by the fact that she's fat and unattractive. Then she falls and hits her head during a SoulCycle spin class, and when she comes to, she's convinced that she's beautiful. Nothing physical has changed—she looks exactly the same—but she has a sudden new self-confidence that changes everything about the way she interacts with the world.
If it need be pointed out, Schumer is hardly "unattractive," and I don't think she's "fat"—although she's obviously uncowed by the images of chic emaciation that pummel women at every cultural turn. (In a couple of scenes, she blithely invites comparison to the goddessy Emily Ratajkowski, who has a small role as a gym patron.) In the first half of the movie—before it wobbles off the rails—Schumer plays the female social plight for poignant comedy. On a dating site Renee finds nothing but rejection. In a clothes store, she finds nothing in her size and is advised by a contemptuous attendant to try shopping online. Contemplating her body in a mirror brings her almost to tears. And we hear her wondering what it must be like to be "undeniably pretty"—a melancholy turn of phrase.
After the fortuitous spin-class accident, Renee decides to take charge of her aimless life. She's had it with her menial job in a cramped Chinatown workspace. Now fueled by a new fearlessness, she marches into her company's model-strewn midtown headquarters, all but demands a position as the office receptionist, and starts making herself indispensable to loosely wrapped CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams, owning every scene in which she figures). Avery, who suggests a hummingbird hooked up to a Valium drip, is preparing to launch a new downmarket line of cosmetics for the masses, and she thinks the clearly downmarket Renee can provide some useful marketing guidance. Which she can, and does. Soon she's being groomed for higher things.
Does any of this sound familiar? A dozen years ago, in The Devil Wears Prada, another frumpy duckling, played by Anne Hathaway, was likewise transformed by an entry-level job in the fashion world. Cinematographer Florian Ballhaus, who shot that movie, also shot this one, and its crisp corporate offices and cobbly downtown street scenes create a similar visual texture. But these echoes of the earlier film do no favors for I Feel Pretty—they only recall Prada's superior craft and its unique charm.
The movie is undone by its script, written by rom-com specialists Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who also directed. They've provided Renee with two cliché friends (Busy Philipps and Aidy Bryant) whose function is mainly to watch poutingly as their pal is lured away by the fashionable snoboisie, and later to hammer home to her the inevitable lesson that what's really important in life isn't beauty, it's being your very best you. In addition to these two trite characters, there's also a long barroom bikini contest, complete with wet t-shirt, that goes on too long when it shouldn't be going on at all.
Much more of a problem is a scene about midway through the film in which Renee enters a restaurant to rendezvous with a mild-mannered guy she recently met (Rory Scovel). They spot each other across the room at the same time—each one of them looking straight at the other—and then Renee whips out her phone to send a text telling the guy that she's still at work and won't be coming to this place where she clearly already is. This is a baffling narrative lapse, and you wonder how the picture can possibly recover.
Turns out it can't. Schumer herself is lively and likable throughout the film, but she's unable to surmount its puddle-of-goo ending, which is set at a company launch party at which Renee delivers a triumphant address to the many women on hand. Some of what she has to say is gently affecting. ("When we're little girls, we have all the confidence in the world. But you lose all that.") Mostly, though, what we get is vintage feminist boilerplate—a litany of high-blown go-girl bromides that are a disservice to the subtler emotional issues the movie raises. It's a regrettably missed opportunity.