Movie Review: “I Feel Pretty”

Written and directed by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein, Amy Schumer’s latest vehicle, “I Feel Pretty,” has all the appearances of a comedy intended to have a message.  The trouble with the movie is that after watching it, it’s impossible to figure out what exactly that message might be.

Schumer stars here as Renee Bennett, a woman who is nice and sweet and constantly feels less-than because she isn’t drop-dead gorgeous.  Renee believes that the beautiful people in this world have it easy, that all they have to do to win is show-up.  An obviously myopic viewpoint, Renee turns this into her own personality reality after she suffers an accident at SoulCycle and believes herself transformed, “Big”-style, into some sort of supermodel.

Of course, Renee isn’t actually physically transformed, just mentally concussed.  Her friends—Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps)—know there is something wrong with Renee, but don’t care enough to actually examine the issue.  Instead, they just become the aggrieved party when slammed by the new Renee.

At the same time that the movie regularly makes a joke out of it, we are supposed to admire Renee’s new found confidence.  This confidence allows her to go from a closet of a Chinatown office, working for a makeup company, to the receptionist at their headquarters and then genius behind a product line.  This confidence puts her in touch with the company’s head, Avery Leclair (Michelle Williams); Avery’s grandmother and the company’s founder, Lilly Leclair (Lauren Hutton); and the Avery’s good-for-nothing brother, Grant (Tom Hopper).

Avery assures Renee, and the audience, that she’s really and truly smart, but that her voice belies those brains and makes everyone think she’s not terribly bright.  While her voice may offer that impression to some, her failings in working out the new product line will be more than enough to convince everyone else.  Even if with a different voice, she is never shown to be remotely savvy at the exact field in which she’s supposed to be an expert.

Is Avery smart?  Yes, but only when the film wants her to be.

Is Avery not terribly bright?  If that is what the story calls for, she is, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

What of the story of playboy Grant who just wants to be taken seriously?  Or maybe wants to be taken seriously?  Or maybe just wants to live as he’s been living off the family’s cash? There are hints the movie wants to go somewhere with it, but it doesn’t bother to flesh them out.

Hutton is wonderful as a down-to-earth mogul in semi-retirement, but we only ever get hints about her past and how she built the company.  It isn’t enough from which to draw a conclusion and at least one scene in which this is brought up feels horribly out of place.

Then there is Renee’s new boyfriend, Ethan (Rory Scovel).  Renee is only confident enough to talk to Ethan at a cleaners because she’s in an altered frame of mind.  Not knowing her as well as Vivian or Jane does, Ethan can be forgiven for not immediately seeking medical help for Renee, but their relationship is never drawn in a real, human, fashion.  Virtually his entire stance towards her is one of confusion – who is this woman and what is she doing?  We never see enough of Ethan’s life outside of Renee to get a feel for who he truly is as a person and so our ability to understand him is limited.

This last is true for everyone in the film – we never get a good feel for who any of them are, and that includes Renee.  Certainly she is funny, there are a number of light chuckles in the movie, but that’s not really enough.  One can’t even figure out whether she is a good person, a bad person, a combination of the two, or what she becomes by the time the credits roll.

“I Feel Pretty” opens and closes plots at a rapid clip, with little reason behind any of it besides the fact that there may have been a potential laugh to mine.  It is a schizophrenic film, but unquestionably the worst thing about it is this fact that it doesn’t have a clear take on Renee. She becomes a terrible person when she thinks she looks pretty, but it doesn’t happen immediately and there is no real revelatory moment about this.  It ends up feeling like simply being there as a way to push forward a couple of plot points.

If one is to be generous with the film, they would suggest that “I Feel Pretty” fails because it tries to do too much, that it opens so many plotlines because it knows that there are important things to say about them.  And make no mistake here, the way society treats people based upon their looks is a multi-faceted, important, discussion to be had, but because it tackles so many issues, “I Feel Pretty” winds up doing nothing with them. It doesn’t really even succeed at issuing a “people are just people, no matter what they look like” line because it offers no real, three-dimensional, people at any point, just caricatures.

“I Feel Pretty” is never funny enough to succeed in spite of its spate of drawbacks.  It will offer undemanding viewers some humor, but those who try to delve deeper into the film’s meaning will leave it just as concussed as Renee.

photo credit: STX Films

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