Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
I FEEL PRETTY
Rated PG-13, 110 minutes
Directed by: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein
Starring: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel, Emily Ratajkowski, Busy Philipps, Tom Hopper, Aidy Bryant, Lauren Hutton, Tom Hopper
There’s a subversive brilliance to a majority of the sketches on THE AMY SCHUMER SHOW. For three glorious seasons, she and her staff dissected important social issues – in particular women’s issues like beauty, dating and eating habits. The show struck a nerve in the zeitgeist. “Last F**kable Day” was widely discussed on every talk show and website for weeks on end. Her 12 ANGRY MEN homage, an inspired response to all the vitriol she’s faced over her looks, went on to be nominated for an Emmy. And in “Plain Jane,” Schumer played a detective whose great success solving cases was due to her unremarkable appearance. At one point, the criminals overlook her standing right next to them, as all they see is a trash bag of wet leaves.
Perhaps on some level, that self-deprecating humor made the comedienne the perfect match for writer-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein’s I FEEL PRETTY. While Schumer pulls it off with aplomb, the material places her on some shaky ground. The film tends to be a paint-by-numbers romcom over an innovative comedic treatise on superficiality, so it’s noticeably lacking in her brand’s wit, wisdom and acerbic bite.
Renee Bennett (Schumer) is at a real low point in her life due to her low self-esteem. This may even be her rock bottom. She works in a basement office. Babies cry when she greets them. She’s uncomfortable with her Spanx-clad body. She’s ignored by the world at large. However, all of this changes when she hits her head during a rigorous Soul Cycle class. She awakens from her mild concussion magically transformed (albeit only in her mind) into the beautiful woman she’s always yearned to be. This shift in perspective sends her confidence skyrocketing, landing her a better job as a receptionist at the cosmetics company run by Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams, whose performance is gold). She also lands a caring, supportive boyfriend in Ethan (Rory Scovel), and a more fulfilling life overall. Hijinks ensue from there.
Kohn and Silverstein’s hearts are in the right place with the message. Though the trailers seem to portray a problematic message about body-positivity, the movie is actually the opposite. It’s about loving yourself for who you are. They take great craft and care to never show a model-perfect body double from Renee’s POV. They make it clear that her journey is not about her looks – it’s about how confidence is the key to her, or any woman’s, strength and empowerment. They also very lightly demonstrate this idea through baby-voiced beauty Avery’s struggle to be taken seriously as a commanding business woman. Plus, they dig into the high-concept theme of regression as personal progression. Renee hitting her head is the catalyst towards positive change.
The trouble is that the message is ham-handedly conveyed at a few points. Given Schumer’s history with her show, we might expect some sort of commentary about the fact Renee works in the beauty industry, which caters to women’s insecurities – but there’s nothing. A few scenes where Renee is oblivious to her non-body swap can get a smidge dicey. It becomes more about laughing at Renee’s blissful ignorance than about laughing at society’s superficial beauty standards. Renee’s “a-ha moment” comes at the expense of another woman’s sorrow, and the opposite party’s response stretches believability. It’s alarming this is factored into her character’s coming to terms with herself.
Pacing is another issue plaguing the proceedings as there are multiple lulls in the humor. For every adorably sweet “meet-cute” (there’s a great one set at the dry cleaners), there’s an equally annoying, forced love triangle that goes nowhere (there’s a disappointing one set in a Boston hotel room). The set-up involving Avery’s hunky brother, Grant (Tom Hopper), and Renee is certainly charming, but the filmmakers’ execution in how their playful banter evolves is lackluster, ending on a whimper. Script beats can also get formulaic. Renee’s inevitable redemption after she alienates her best friends Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Phillips) feels contrived.
Despite I FEEL PRETTY aching for a snappier sense of rhythm and a wicked intelligence, it succeeds in putting good out there – good that can inspire.
I FEEL PRETTY opens on April 20.