On the surface, we should all cheer for a well-intentioned comedy in which the flawed heroine learns that a healthy dose of self-acceptance trumps puffy-lipped beauty. But I Feel Pretty begs audiences to look beyond the surface and go deep. With that de facto blessing, here’s the unblemished truth: The film disappoints as both a laugh-riot and as a sweet, go-girl message of empowerment.
Social critics have already slammed the latest star effort from Amy Schumer, insisting that she is promoting the idea that women should strive for physical perfection. It’s misguided attack (more on this below if you make it that far). Personally, I bristle at the one-dimensional sketch of her character. Renee is a lovelorn woman in New York City who does online writing for a designer makeup company called Lily LeClaire and hangs with two funny, Beverly Hills, 90210-loving close pals (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps). She wears her long blonde hair in a braid, boasts glowing, wrinkle-free skin, cute outfits and a pear-shaped figure. Yet while shopping in a drug store, a dude refers to her as “sir” and mistakes her for a clerk. This seems extreme and non-relatable, no? The insecure Renee is convinced that if she just looked like her gorgeous new friend (Emily Ratajkowski), her problems would be gone in a flash.
Renee doesn’t need a fairy godmother. She has SoulCycle, the spinning behemoth that specializes in calorie-torching life affirmation. During a class in Soho, Renee gets caught up in the sweaty frenzy of positivity, falls off her bike and hits her head. (Note: As a longtime SoulCycle disciple, I assure you that this would never happen IRL.) Anyhoo! Renee comes to and thinks that her prayers have answered. She stares at the mirror and marvels at her new jawline, her rock-hard abs, her curvy butt. She struts out of the studio oozing the newfound confidence and moxie of a cover girl.
Renee’s all that because she internalizes the makeover. She didn’t just remove her glasses and cut her bangs a la Laney Boggs. This conceit, while novel, doesn’t always track. Renee thinks that she looks so radically different that her friends won’t recognize her, yet these down-to-Earth besties never once tell her that Renee 2.0 looks exactly like Renee 1.0. She brazenly enters a bikini contest yet she continues to wear her Spanx. A Before-and-After photo has magical powers, for reasons unexplained. A higher-up at the company hits on her, then doesn’t. She gets her dream job as a receptionist at Lily LeClaire’s Fifth Avenue HQ. A receptionist?!
This new Renee is borderline insufferable. She stares at herself in the mirror while having sex for the first time with her new boyfriend. She brags to total strangers about her beauty. She’s obnoxious around her friends, ditching them to hang with the pretty people at her company. So much for I Feel Pretty, I feel witty! The solid supporting cast languish around her, especially Michelle Williams as honcho Avery LeClaire. For reasons only known to the movie gods, the four-time Oscar nominee plays her character as Helium Barbie. She squeaks out her lines, behaves like she’s in a trance and says absent-minded things like her grandma (Lauren Hutton) founded the company in the year 1200. Ugh. She and her real-life BFF Philipps don’t even exchange any dialogue!
Schumer gets as much as mileage as she can out of the faux transformation; alas, the exclamations wear thin. Speaking of: For all the film’s negative publicity, Renee never outright says she wants to be skinny or remarks that she’s turned into a girl with a tiny waist-size. (Though it’s implied, given that Ratajkowski’s character is in a sports bra and tiny shorts in the opening scene). She just longs for an altered appearance, a perfectly understandable desire. It’s human nature to want something that is lacking — and, frankly, the proliferation of impossible-to-attain beautiful images on social media heightens this problem. To quote Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada: That’s what this whole multi-billion-dollar industry is about, isn’t it? Inner-beauty! Maybe it’s out of vogue for women to covet the looks of someone like Ratajkowski, but it’s not out of Vogue.
I Feel Pretty rarely addresses these modern-day image issues in an intelligent or even hilarious way. Instead, it sticks to basic lessons, such as the revelation that beautiful women have boyfriend problems too!! (Ahem, surely Renee, who’s well-versed in Hadids, would already know this.) If a movie is going to put a spin on the transformation comedy, it should be more sophisticated and self-aware. All this entry does is prove the point that the genre itself is in desperate need of a makeover.
I Feel Pretty opens in theaters on Friday, April 20
Also published on Medium.