One of my biggest peeves with the movie-going experience is the massive commercialization of the process. When I was a kid, movies started at the listed start times, or at worst, after one or two trailers. Nowadays most movie chains warm their viewers up with half hour pre-produced commercial blocks, with the occasional two-minute behind-the-scenes bit to justify it. At the appointed start time, we get a few more commercials, followed by 20 minutes of trailers, and then a couple more minutes of ads from the theatre itself before we actually begin seeing the movie we all paid to see.
It’s with that thought in mind that I present I Feel Pretty, a failure on almost every front, not the least of which is the fact that the film is basically a 90-minute commercial. From the very first scene, a cringe-worthy bit of physical comedy at a SoulCycle class, to the finale where cosmetics are sold triumphantly, and every excruciating endorsement of ranch dressing in between, this is a trainwreck, and not the good kind, despite the presence of Amy Schumer.
Schumer plays Renee, a tech worker for a fictional cosmetics corporation, who’s resentful of the shallow nature of upscale Manhattan. She harbors a schoolgirl-esque dream of working as a receptionist at the corporate headquarters of her company, rather than the Chinatown basement where she currently resides monitoring online traffic.
After a depressing evening – where she literally watches the Zoltar scene from Big (my rage at such a transparent misuse of a classic film knows no limits) – she wishes to be beautiful. The next day, she bangs her head at spin class, and when she comes to, she magically sees herself as a total hottie. Think Rookie of the Year, except that instead of being able to throw fastballs, she thinks she’s a model or something. This delusion gives her an insane amount of confidence, to the point that she not only gets the receptionist job, but also makes nice with the company bigwigs, gets a boyfriend, and then becomes an equally shallow person to her two best friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps).
The problem is that none of this works because there’s no believable reason for any of this to be happening. I’m an overweight individual myself, and I’ve dealt with my fair share of shaming and rejection over the years (notably, there’s no hint that shallowness goes both ways in this movie, only men towards women or other women towards women, never towards men), but Renee’s newfound confidence doesn’t come from anything in her character, and there’s no sense of empowerment. It’s just that she’s deluded enough to think she’s a supermodel, and the very people she used to resent are too polite to tell her the simple truth that nothing about her has changed, at least physically.
Mind you, even if Renee had made a conscious decision to be more confident, that would also be some bullshit. There’s a reason the phrase is “building confidence.” You have to have positive reinforcement and results. It’s a communal effort to empower each other and build each other up. During her triumphant final speech, Schumer says about the company’s new “Diffusion Line,” which will be sold at normal retailers like Target instead of Saks Fifth Avenue, “This makeup won’t change your lives, only you can do that.” Um, no, Renee, we have to help each other change our lives. That’s kind of the whole point of a society.
A lot of this boils down to the fact that the film was just over-produced to an insane degree. Part of what made Schumer’s big screen debut, Trainwreck so good was the fact that she wrote it and had Judd Apatow direct it. It was her wit and his cinematic eye and sense of comic timing that made it so uproariously funny. This film, on the other hand, was written by Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein, and produced by at least half a dozen credited producers, including Schumer and someone who literally credits himself as “McG” (he was the force behind the Charlie’s Angels movies – so y’know, a true auteur and bastion of artistic integrity). Too many cooks, too much focus on product placement. The whole film is essentially a poorly-acted commercial surrounded by standard issue rom-com tropes.
Apart from the plotting, there were some really troublesome elements on display throughout. First off, Renee and her friends decide to try group dating, long after Grouper stopped being relevant, and only use the term as a snide comment because they couldn’t license it. Dave Attell is listed in the opening credits even though he’s only in two scenes. His character is literally called “Really Tan Dude.” Further, almost every scene transition has a song cue, including, of course, “Girl on Fire” once Renee becomes more confident. Seriously, I never want to hear this song again in a movie unless a girl is literally set on fire.
And then there’s Renee herself and Schumer’s performance. I love Amy Schumer to death, but her entire career to this point has been about her confidence and body image. This is a woman who accepted a Trailblazer Award as part of Glamour UK’s Women of the Year Awards by saying, “I’m 160 pounds, and I can catch a dick whenever I want!” Where was THAT woman in this movie? Nowhere to be seen until she gave herself a concussion, and it goes away the moment she bonks her head again. This isn’t Amy Schumer. It’s the antithesis of Amy Schumer. In order for any of this to work, we as an audience have to buy into the premise that Schumer is fat and ugly, and that’s just objectively not true, and honestly, if I were her I’d feel insulted at the implication. Also, Renee’s only ambition is to be a receptionist at the cosmetics company, which she even acknowledges is a pay cut. Feminism marches on!
Now, all that said, there are a couple of things that save this movie from being a complete dumpster fire. First is Rory Scovel as Ethan, Renee’s love interest. He’s kind, gentle, and funny, and a much needed example against toxic masculinity. There was a legit chance to use him to show that even if you don’t fit the Hollywood paradigm of beauty, you’re still beautiful to someone. Instead his seemingly genuine sentiment is wasted on Renee’s post-reality check insecurities.
Second, and most important, is Michelle Williams. For the longest time I’ve been wondering if she’s even capable of playing anyone other than an aggrieved mother again. It’s been a while since My Week with Marilyn. Well, as Avery LeClaire, the granddaughter of the Lily LeClaire cosmetics company founder, she is an absolute delight. She affects a squeaky high voice, and wide bulging eyes to show her airheadedness and corporate incompetence, but also her earnest desire to prove herself. She’s an excellent sidekick and was by far the funniest part of the movie. She alone elevated this film an entire letter grade.
Sadly, though, that’s about all there is to recommend here. This is corporate filmmaking at its worst, and near criminal misuse of one of the funniest women on the planet. If you want to watch commercials for ranch dressing, just tune in to any random prime time network program without fast-forwarding on your DVR. Don’t waste your money on this.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What are your standards for beauty? Oh my god, is that Hidden Valley Ranch? Let me know!