REVIEW – ‘I Feel Pretty’

Comedy trailers have experienced an odd run in 2018. The previews for Blockers and Game Night were so haphazardly handled, they hid the true glory found waiting for those who bothered to still turn up. Then there was the trailer for Amy Schumer’s latest flick, I Feel Pretty, which was met with white-hot online vitriol for its rather bizarre and potentially offensive premise of an “ugly duckling” who bumps her head and wakes up feeling beautiful. Unfortunately, the trailer was dead right with this one. I Feel Pretty is a confusing and conflating mess of ideas which never really make any sense.

Renee Bennett (Schumer) is a dowdy 30-something New Yorker, plagued by the usual self-esteem and body issues suffered by anyone outside the glamour magazine ideals of beauty. She works in the online department of Lily LeClair cosmetics but is hidden away in a Chinatown basement office, far from the chic Fifth Avenue offices, home to the company’s more fashionable employees. Renee is rejected by boutique stores which don’t carry her size and finds no admiration from the perilous world of online dating. Her gal pals, Vivian (an underused Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) are there for moral support, but Renee longs for a different life and the chance to know what it’s like to be truly “beautiful.”

That chance arrives after a SoulCycle (the first of numerous nauseating product placements) spin-class accident leaves Renee with a nasty concussion, leading her to see herself as the alluring goddess she’s always wanted to be. With a newfound sense of confidence from her dazzling “transformation,” Renee is done with hiding in the shadows, determined to take what she wants, speak her mind, and go for her goals. That leads to a new position within LeClair as their out-of-place receptionist, where she catches the eye of the brand’s stylish CEO Avery LeClair (a scene-stealing Michelle Williams), who’s impressed by Renee’s refreshing attitude and enthusiasm.

And, after some misplaced flirtation, Renee also ensnares herself a new boyfriend in Ethan (Rory Scovel), a down-to-earth sweetheart who’s completely transfixed by Renee’s endearing confidence, despite Renee assuming it’s her new physical appearance. But being beautiful has its consequences, and as Renee falls further in love with herself and her new role in the beauty industry, she soon becomes vain, conceited, and condescending, alienating those who loved her long before she loved herself. Is the gift of self-assurance destined to become her curse?

This may sound like a promising premise, filled with inspiring themes and messages. That’s partly true, but it’s frustratingly hidden amongst a lot of conflicting ideologies and scenarios. There’s a great film hiding here. Frankly, had the film just stuck with Renee, as she battles her way to finding her own sense of self-worth without the use of the Big rip-off magical transformation subplot, it could have been something rather special. And wonderfully empowering for women (and men) of all ages. Instead, we’re given a total mess of a film which can’t seem to decide if its main cinematic function is a silly parody or an important social message.

On one hand, I Feel Pretty is a movie about loving yourself and having self-confidence, breaking the traditional view of beauty and finding the strength to love who you are. And that’s a fantastic message. In this day and age of social media excess and Photoshopped-perfection, being happy with who you are is an ideal cinema needs to embrace more than ever. However, on the other hand, I Feel Pretty is also a movie where we’re expected to laugh at Amy Schumer’s jiggly body and how hilariously ridiculous it is for someone that looks like Schumer to be acting like she’s a supermodel. It’s an incompatible calamity of mixed messages that make for an incredibly frustrating experience.

The film seems to present the notion that a woman of Schumer’s size and shape could not possibly be comfortable in her own body unless she was under some form of a delusional spell from a knock on the head. And we, the audience, are meant to be rolling in the aisles at the actions of this “crazy” woman who dares think she can possibly enter a bikini contest and pour water all over her apparently unflattering body. This is presented as comedy. Yet, within the very same film, those who would laugh at Renee or treat her poorly are the real villains. By that token, does that not make its audience just as evil too? Were we not supposed to be laughing at Schumer’s physical comedy?

It genuinely feels like the screenwriters started crafting a preachy, woke piece about body image and the awful way society treats women, but halfway through decided to change it into a raunchy, ridiculous fish-out-of-water comedy and just mash the two together. It truly makes zero sense. The screenplay invites us to laugh but ultimately makes us feel bad when we do. That’s not to say the laughs aren’t there. Schumer does give it her all and still manages to elicit plenty of chuckles from an audience. Her interactions with Scovel are the highlights, especially when the film takes a more serious and heartfelt turn in their romance. Much like her work with Bill Hader in Trainwreck, Schumer has fantastic chemistry with oddball Scovel, who deserves better than this.

But, again, the film completely mishandles their relationship numerous times throughout the film. For some inexplicable reason, Ethan finds Renee’s garish bikini contest dance (which includes shoving her fingers into a complete stranger’s mouth) entirely seductive and enchanting, despite this taking place on their first date. And later, when the pair is in bed together for the first time, he catches Renee constantly looking at herself in the mirror while they have sex. His response? “That is so hot!” Really?! It’s just another example of how contradictory the film’s messages are. The idea of self-obsession is declared a pox on the world in the film’s inevitable preachy conclusion. Yet, here we have the film’s love interest finding Renee’s self-absorbed behaviour entirely attractive. Make up your damn mind.

Even more frustrating is the film’s bizarre decision to have Renee amazingly come to the realisation “good-looking” people have self-esteem and confidence issues too, presenting this as a groundbreaking revelation. The hot girl at the gym (I forget her name but she’s played by Emily Ratajkowski, whose claim to fame is being that girl in the “Blurred Lines video) gets crushingly dumped by guys and can’t even go to the drug store without being hit on. Avery has issues speaking in public and desperately longs for the approval of her grandmother, Lily (Lauren Hutton). See. They’re real people too. Wow. Who knew?

Williams is the one true highlight here, gifting us a sublime comedic performance, proving she needs to be cast in this genre more often. With a deliciously ridiculous chipmunk voice and waif-life persona, Avery steals every moment she’s a part of, thanks to Williams’ supreme talent. Avery is initially presented as strong, powerful CEO, but that all but fades away once she opens her mouth and that unfortunate voice leaves her throat. It’s an ingenious performance choice by Williams, and she handles it expertly. Perhaps it was dangerous casting such a brilliant actress in a film like this, as she ultimately outshines Schumer at every opportunity.

By the time I Feel Pretty draws to its inevitable feel-good climax, you’ll likely be so confused and puzzled by what this film is trying to say, you’ll completely stop caring. The film reaches for the stars but takes so many detours and side-trips on the way, it rarely arrives at its intended destination. There are some good takeaways from the narrative, even daring to touch upon on the notion of men having body issues too. But most are never fully explored or developed. And the ones that are become too muddled by so much juxtaposition from a neverending wave of consistently opposing ideas.

I Feel Pretty wants you to walk out of the cinema feeling empowered and uplifted, hoping you’ll love the person you are and throw caution to the wind more often. It wants you to, well, feel pretty. And perhaps you will, in some small way. But it’s far more likely you’ll leave feeling entirely lost and bewildered by the garbled nonsense you’ve just subjected yourself to.

★★☆☆☆

Distributor: eOne Films
Cast: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Rory Scovel, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps, Tom Hopper, Naomi Campbell, Lauren Hutton
Directors: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Screenplay: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Producers: Nicolas Chartier, McG, Alissa Phillips, Dominic Rustam, Mary Viola
Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus
Production Design: William O. Hunter
Music: Michael Andrews
Editor: Tia Nolan
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: 19th April 2018 (Australia)

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