I Feel Pretty
2018, PG-13, 110 min. Directed by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein. Starring Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel, Emily Ratajkowski, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps, Tom Hopper, Naomi Campbell, Lauren Hutton, Sasheer Zamata.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 20, 2018
Amy Schumer is the reigning queen of self-deprecating comedy, a smart cookie who’s her own favorite punch line. In a memorable episode of her Comedy Central series that brilliantly parodied the gritty 1957 courtroom drama 12 Angry Men, an all-male jury mercilessly deliberates whether Schumer is hot enough to star in her own television show, picking her looks apart as if performing an autopsy. “She’s built like a lineman, and she has Cabbage Patch-like features,” grumbles a particularly harsh Paul Giamatti in trying to persuade the lone holdout in the group to join a verdict of “Not Bangable." It’s a brutally funny sketch about the objectifying male gaze, one that showcased the comic’s razor-sharp knack for satire and her fearless willingness to expose herself to the point of humiliation when calling out the hypocrisy of the boys' club and women’s passive acquiescence to it, way before #MeToo became an ubiquitous hashtag.
So why can’t this gifted (and frequently polarizing) comedian better translate her talents to the movies? The so-so Trainwreck and the execrable Snatched both compromised the thing that makes Schumer’s wit so titillating – her square-peg perspective on gender politics, even when the laughs are at her own expense. The encouraging premise of her third leading-role film, I Feel Pretty, is tailored to her uniquely feminist weltanschauung: An insecure woman with body image issues (Not thin enough! Not sexy enough! Not attractive enough!) is knocked unconscious, only to wake up to believe she’s become an idealized version of the female form, giving her the confidence of the Vogue cover girl or Victoria’s Secret runway model she now sees in her reflection. Although the film overtly takes its cue from the 1988 wish-fulfillment comedy Big, the transformation of Schumer’s Renee is unlike the physical one Tom Hanks’ character experiences. She looks exactly the same, but her attitude has pivoted 180 degrees, a mental makeover that makes her – as the cliche goes – beautiful, on both the inside and the outside.
Without actually seeing the movie, Schumer’s detractors have sniped I Feel Pretty reinforces societal expectations about the way women should look, based solely on the trailers divulging the movie’s provocative setup. Those people are idiots. While you could claim Schumer sometimes wants to have it both ways here (for example, why is her nude scene so coyly shot at shadowy angles?), in the end the film sincerely (although clumsily) speaks to women about embracing who they see in the looking glass without wishing they saw somebody else. What ultimately disappoints here, however, is the conventionality of the movie’s narrative arc, its mushy characterizations (as the cosmetic company heiress who befriends Renee, a squeaky-voiced Williams is utterly dispensable), and a rushed conclusion that ties up the loose ends with a sloppy bow that diminishes the movie’s message. In her sketch comedy show, Schumer kowtowed to no one, but in her movies, you get the impression the class clown secretly wishes to be the most popular girl as well. Maybe the mirror has two faces after all.