Film & Television

‘I Feel Pretty’: A Bit Too Muddled For Its Message

On a daily basis, in film, television, and ads, we are bombarded by images of near-impossible beauty. It doesn’t matter that we know the photos are retouched, that the women have been professionally made up and styled, or that the typical supermodel’s supper probably consists of plain lettuce with mustard and a single raisin for dessert. Whether we’re obsessing over our thighs, our nose, our stomach, or myriad other body parts, not-quite-measuring-up is a feeling to which many (maybe most) women can relate.

And, of course, each of us is her own worst critic.

That’s why the premise of the new Amy Schumer film I Feel Pretty should resonate. Renee, a self-conscious “plain Jane,” gets a magical bump on the head and suddenly sees herself as the gorgeous woman she’s always longed to be. With newfound confidence, she pursues her dream job and an adorable boyfriend. And although she looks exactly the same, her exponentially enhanced belief in herself opens doors.

If it were simply left there, the message would be clear. Real beauty is found within.

But, that’s just one of the problems with the film — and there are several.

Written and directed by the team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, I Feel Pretty can’t quite decide what it’s trying to be. There’s an important message buried in there somewhere (and completely muddled late in the film), but it’s also set up to be a romantic comedy. In fact, Renee’s burgeoning relationship with Ethan is probably the sweetest and easiest part of the movie. (They “meet cute” at the dry cleaner, because that’s what happens when you believe you’re gorgeous.) At the same time, there’s an element of transformation fantasy à la Freaky Friday. Then there’s the standard makeover theme you’ll remember from Working Girl, Miss Congeniality, or another Kohn-Silverstein project, Never Been Kissed. And finally, unfortunately, the movie threatens to head into the gross-us-out bodily-functions territory of so many male buddy films (as well as Bridesmaids with an extended and not-so-funny bit about Renee’s coworker not wanting her to hear him using the bathroom.

I Feel Pretty begins with Schumer’s character. Renee, trying to improve herself via YouTube hair tutorials and purloined designer makeup. She can’t find her size in retail shops. She’s ignored by bartenders. She tries a spinning class and after being publicly humiliated for her “double wide” feet, ends up breaking the bike and splitting her pants. In fact, she’s so unattractive, she actually makes babies cry at the supermarket.

Renee and her girlfriends, Jane and Vivian (the sadly underutilized Busy Phillips and SNL’s Aidy Bryant), sign up for an online dating service and get zero “likes.” And, she’s stuck in a dead-end job, running the website for Lily LeClaire, a chic Fifth Avenue cosmetics company, out of a dank Chinatown basement. Something’s got to give.

So, taking her cue from a late night broadcast of Big, Renee makes a wish to be pretty. The next day, she returns to SoulCycle (that trendy fitness emporium must have paid quite a bit for product placement; it’s mentioned in the movie many times, too many times). A horrific fall from her bike results in a concussion and the delusion that she is, at last, pretty. “I look like a Kardashian, one of the Jenner ones!” she gleefully announces to the employee (SNL’s Sasheer Zamata, also underused) sent in to keep Renee from suing.

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  • Natalie May 3, 2018 at 11:15 am

    It wasn’t an attack on the cosmetic’s industry. She was pointing out a flaw with the movie’s message. If the intended message is “you should feel comfortable in your own skin”, the continuation of that message should not be “so you should buy make-up”, but rather “you don’t NEED make-up”. If in the movie Renee is making the speech in order to sell make-up, then her intentions are contradicting her message.

  • Jason April 25, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    You make some good points….Amy Schumer’s talent is wasted here, though it’s as much her fault as the writers. All she seems to have to offer any more is to tell fat jokes about herself or talk for 5 straight minutes about her own feminine odor on a TV special. Each project she does seems to be declining in entertainment value. However in your closing you attack the cosmetics industry as though you think that choosing to wear makeup is testimony that your own face isn’t good enough. What do you say when you put in your own makeup?

  • caren gittleman April 24, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    thank you for this honest review. I am disappointed because I LOVED the concept of the movie when I saw the promos on TV. Might have to pass on this one.

  • jessica heriot April 24, 2018 at 10:47 am

    I suggest reading the review in the NYTimes April 21st. the societal denial of the impossible beauty standards for women in faked acceptance of a more enlightened view of female beauty (a few over-sized models, the lie of “self-confidence will make you beautiful,” dieting now masked as wellness.