As her star has risen from stand-up to her own sketch comedy show to headlining feature films, Amy Schumer has been subjected to some grotesque, misogynistic criticisms from lecherous old men disguised as cultural critics. Schumer hasn’t played the victim when these ridiculous statements are made about her. Instead she used her platform to take these outdated notions of traditional beauty standards and inherent misogyny head-on, be it in her stand-up or on Inside Amy Schumer. The trailer for Schumer’s latest film, I Feel Pretty, was met with instant backlash as it was perceived as reinforcing outdated social norms and was inherently regressive. Of course, a trailer isn’t a finished film, and it’s important for me to view a film before reaching a conclusion. Having now seen I Feel Pretty, I can say with confidence that it’s not the absolute train wreck many envisioned nor is it a secretly progressive comedy that tackles tricky subjects.
In the film Schumer plays Renee Bennett, a young woman working for Lily LeClaire, a high-end fashion company, but tucked away in a dingy office in Chinatown far from the bustling headquarters in Manhattan. Renee is plagued with insecurities over her physical appearance which prevent her from living out her dreams, which mainly consist of being generically pretty and working as a receptionist. (Reach for the skies, girl!) One day after catching the movie Big on cable and placing a wish in a well on a stormy night, Renee has an accident during her spin class and wakes up believing herself to be physically transformed into a model-like beauty. The extent of the humor from this point forward is that Renee has a level of self-assuredness and confidence that someone with her physical appearance is just incapable of.
Written and directed by the duo of Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein, I Feel Pretty really isn’t a comedy that aspires for much beyond the surface level, which is kind of ironic considering the film’s subject matter. Once Renee’s bump on the noggin has instilled her with a delusional sense of self-worth, her dreams come true – she gets the receptionist job, she meets a man (Rory Scovel), and is suddenly a part of the beating heart of high-end fashion. Then emerges the dark side, or so Kohn and Silverstein think. Renee alienates her best friends (played by Busy Phillips and Aidy Bryant) with a condescending attitude that emerges with her emerging swagger. Of course, as expected, Renee is able to make nice with her friends, retain her job and boyfriend, and learn that she had self-worth all along.
What’s so frustrating about I Feel Pretty is the fact that this is comedy that just has no bite. What this movie wants to tackle in just a hair under two hours Schumer used to be able to tackle in a 3-minute sketch. At worst, I Feel Pretty seems like a movie where Schumer is allowing her worst critics to define her. Even more confounding, the movie really has no interest in using the angle of Renee’s employment in a fashion empire to dig deeper into an industry that preys upon insecurities. Instead, Renee is just supposed to oversee a new line of makeup for average women. That’s all there is.
Whatever Kohn and Silverstein are trying to say with I Feel Pretty gets lost because it’s at once formulaic and seemingly incomplete. Often the movie just blurts out the platitudes it’s aiming for without providing much more beyond the incredibly obvious. The film also struggles to balance its characters, creating numerous lengthy laugh-less lulls along the way.
There are a few bright spots buried in I Feel Pretty, most notably the astounding comedic performance from Michelle Williams as Avery LeClaire, the insecure head of the fashion empire which she oversees for her grandmother Lily LeClaire (Lauren Hutton). Williams inflects a high-pitched, almost ditzy voice as Avery and her comedic timing is truly impeccable. Even when the film begins nestling itself into its lulls, Williams enters the frame to perk up a languishing movie. I’d genuinely love to see Michelle Williams do more comedic work after this incredible performance that steals the movie from its comedian star.
Nobody who had apprehensions about I Feel Pretty will be assuaged by the finished film. There are some sporadically funny moments in the film but they’re often overshadowed by its toothless themes and muddled characters. I Feel Pretty is such a disappointment because Amy Schumer has been able to deftly tackle societal norms with efficient, brutally funny sketches, and this film has none of the features that made Schumer a star. This is a movie that feels like it’s trying to placate the most chauvinistic pigs who’ve said vicious things about her. Schumer shouldn’t try to placate them; she should be eviscerating them.