Movie Review: I Feel Pretty
Amy Schumer takes on the beauty myth — literally — in a story about an insecure woman concussed into confidence in I Feel Pretty, a piece of formula magically transformed into a one-woman screwball comedy of mistaken identity.
I Feel Pretty
Starring: Amy Schumer, Aidy Bryant, Michelle Williams, Tom Hopper, Rory Scovel, Lauren Hutton, Emily Ratajkowski, Busy Philipps
Directed by: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Running time: 1 hr 50 mins
“I feel charming
Oh, so charming
It’s alarming how charming I feel
And so pretty
That I hardly can believe I’m real… I feel pretty, oh so pretty…
See the pretty girl in that mirror there:
Who can that attractive girl be?
Such a pretty face
Such a pretty dress
Such a pretty smile
Such a pretty me!
I feel stunning
Feel like running and dancing for joy
For I’m loved
By a pretty wonderful boy!”
– West Side Story, lyric Stephen Sondheim, music Leonard Bernstein
By Katherine Monk
This one is more of an East Side story, so it’s all about First World problems in Amy Schumer’s latest offhand homage to the female condition. Nonetheless, the underlying sense of universal tragedy is still there, strapped into stiletto heels and slithering into Spanx: For a woman, feeling pretty is synonymous with feeling seen, valued and admired. By a man.
At least this time around, our female hero validates herself. Instead of taking her inspiration from pretty and witty Maria, Renee (Schumer) goes full goof Gilligan, and gets a knock on the noggin after falling off the seat at spin class. From being an insecure, self-critical, worker drone struggling to be cover-girl beautiful, Renee suddenly looks in the mirror and thinks she looks super hot.
Every doubt vaporizes in a magical moment of concussed perspective and with all her newly found confidence, Renee’s world starts to change. She engages with people wearing a great big smile. More importantly, she owns everything about the body she once hated, and embraces every ripple and curve.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch any woman take pride in the body she lives in. To look in the mirror without feeling a gut-wrenching sense of judgment, to grab a roll of flab and say ‘gorgeous!’, is not something the average female experiences in her entire lifetime. That’s why this movie works so well as a comedy: It’s a pure case of screwball mistaken identity, only the comedic duo resides within one soul. Renee sees herself as a supermodel. The rest of the world is, like, wha…?
For the viewer, there’s an implied sense of embarrassment in the way director-writers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein phrase the humour. Her friends, nicely played by Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps, roll their eyeballs at the brassy sassiness now on constant display. They’re happy Renee feels good, but they’re starting to feel left out. Because they are.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch any woman take pride in the body she lives in. To look in the mirror without feeling a gut-wrenching sense of judgment, to grab a roll of flab and say ‘gorgeous!’, is not something the average female experiences in her entire lifetime. That’s why this movie works so well as a comedy…
Now that Renee has the swagger to snag a boyfriend (Rory Scovel) and the intoxicating confidence of an Amazon, she’s working at her dream job: receptionist for the elite cosmetics line, Lily LeClair. Recruited for her outgoing personality, Renee has been taken under the wing of waify CEO Avery LeClair (Michelle Williams) to help develop the new the mass consumer “diffusion” line for Target — aka the cheaper stuff.
Now, forget about the fact Renee hasn’t translated her confidence into something substantial, like first-time political candidate or upstart entrepreneur. We’re working inside the box of Hollywood formula here, and well inside the prison of Renee’s limited imagination.
What’s important is how Renee approaches her own place in the world. From apologizing for taking up space, she gains a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging. These are the real goals, and the real source of personal reward. Yet, the script distills this down to the dynamic between her female friends. When she finally gains access to the cordoned-off spaces where couture dresses drape off boney shoulders and men in tailored suits talk about the market, she abandons her buds. She feels they aren’t cool or pretty enough, and she wants — like all girls in these movies — to be popular.
Inevitably, she’s forced to recalibrate her own values once she realizes she’s a bad friend, but you knew that already because you innately understand the genre codes meshed into the story. Like Bridesmaids or the recent Blockers, Hollywood entertains moments of feminist insight that force it into an awkward selfie situation. After all, Renee’s whole notion of self-esteem revolve around the cosmetic ideal created and propagated by the entertainment industry. And so does the comic premise, because thanks to our conditioning, we’re trapped by our concept of “pretty” and how Schumer’s physical features compare to the mutant beauties among us.
Like Bridesmaids or the recent Blockers, Hollywood entertains moments of feminist insight that force it into an awkward selfie situation.
She doesn’t look like Maxim’s favourite face, Emily Ratajkowski — who gets to play the sad pretty girl. Renee looks like the rest of us, so when she first begins to strut, we cringe a little. Yet as she sheds her shame, so do we, because we’re laughing at the set pieces — as well as the suitcases stuffed with fear and loathing. Thanks to Schumer’s ability to be Debbie Reynolds and Oliver Hardy in the same breath, even the most predictable gags find a nugget of truth that pulls them out of the corn field.
In the end, it’s her pure confidence in the character she’s playing that brings I Feel Pretty its winning edge. Schumer loves and believes in Renee, perhaps even more than she loves and believes in herself. There’s a gap inhabited by the imposter within and Schumer plays facial patty cake with it for the duration: the reality-based straight-man holding the over-the-top gag artist by the lapels, screaming “Why, I oughtta … love you.”
I Feel Pretty has some close scrapes with forehead-slapping cliche, but it does exactly what it had to do, and delivers a lot of feel-good vibes to an audience that often finds it hard to feel good — let alone “feel pretty.” Now, if only we could get past the idea that “feeling pretty” — even in a comic sense — is the psychological equivalent of feeling valued, we might be riding a bicycle down the road of true empowerment instead of spinning our wheels in spin class.
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” — Irina Dunn
THE EX-PRESS, April 20, 2018