By: Steve Pulaski
One can understand why Amy Schumer would want to help fund and be a part of a film like I Feel Pretty. This is the same woman who has weathered many a social media storm and shut down countless naysayers that continue to incite vitriol in the former of grammatically (and morally) repugnant tweets. Love her or not, Schumer has found her footing in comedy, and her brand has gifted her with enviable success, especially on the stand-up circuit.
However, on the big-screen, after her smash-hit Trainwreck enjoyed a lengthy engagement in the middle of a hot summer three years ago, Schumer has failed to replicate that kind of broad and broadly funny appeal. After the ho-hum Snatched and now the terribly underwhelming I Feel Pretty, Schumer continues to prove that her brand of humor — which is largely predicated on going against beauty standards, being both body/sex-positive in its message, and shamelessly bawdy when the timing right — is not cut out for long-form entertainment. Perhaps developed on-stage routines are more her bag. Maybe her forte is what she’s made of her Comedy Central program, Inside Amy Schumer. Whatever it is, it’s definitely not the last two films she’s given us, especially as I Feel Pretty substitutes the mean-spirited nature of Snatched for something almost criminally boring in return.
Schumer more-or-less reworks an interstitial sketch from her Comedy Central show where she played a woman shopping for a slimmer wardrobe after switching to Diet Snapple and buying a mini house-trampoline for exercise. The succinct skit was a humorous satire on the unrealistic beauty standards for women while simultaneously being observant and brimful of timely nuances. In I Feel Petty, Schumer plays Renee Barrett, an ordinary woman who is both overwhelmed and frustrated by a society that ostensibly excludes her for being unattractive. Her and her friends are never the ones to receive romantic messages from men, and no amount of makeup/hair tutorials or spin classes seem to change that. Renee also works a low-level computer job at the headquarters of Lily LeClaire, a high-end cosmetics company, where she sits in the basement some blocks down from the actual LeClaire offices. Her only companion, the socially awkward Mason (Adrian Martinez, who is good for some of the film’s biggest laughs), can’t even be bothered to entertain her desire for casual workplace banter.
Renee gets something of a break after watching the Tom Hanks fantasy Big one night, which inspires her to charge out into a rainstorm, launch a coin into a fountain, and wish to be beautiful. The next morning, at her spin class, in a brutal sequence, she falls off her stationary bike, hits her head, and awakes believing she is the prettiest woman in the world. The catch: to everyone else, she looks normal, but in the mirror, her face, body, and butt are all the ideal shape. This allows her to make the “bold” move and apply for a receptionist job at the LeClaire offices, a role she gleefully accepts when the company’s primary shot-caller, Avery (Michelle Williams), sees Renee as a key influence for the company’s budget-brand makeup line. Her newly realized beauty also makes her believe the timid Ethan (Rory Scovel) is trying to court her while they wait for their dry-cleaning, a brave move on her behalf that actually leads to a relationship.
Some of the most relevant moments in I Feel Pretty come when Renee breaks down the demographics of Avery and her team’s budget-brand cosmetics, which they foresee selling in Target (which is mentioned more times in this film than during an average middle-aged book-club). When she discovers that the LeClaire team has dismissed the decision of including an application brush in their small, $8 kits, Renee informs them that the women buying this product are likely the ones doing their makeup in their rear-view mirrors on their way to their jobs; the same ladies who now, after hitting a bump on the road, will look like “Braveheart” because they’ll be applying blush with their finger and not a miniature swab. Tidbits of perspective from Renee to a group of designers out of touch with working/middle-class life are sprinkled intermittently and will likely vocalize the innermost musings of like-minded women in a way that’s almost endearing in its honesty. Again, I use the word almost.
The problem with I Feel Pretty is that, like Blockers, while it might not be the total disaster its trailers ostensibly tried to damage-control, it’s never more than sporadically humorous, and aggressive mediocrity is not a new bar we should laud. The core concept is a thin one, and in order for it to succeed, is built off a plethora of misunderstandings or misconstrued exchanges between characters — similar to how the writing/directing team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (writers of Never Been Kissed and How to Be Single) want the body-positive angle to work yet can’t help but make the audience laugh at the expense of the female characters and their physical attributes. With Schumer’s stereotypically plus-sized figure being the butt of many jokes, one being an unfunny bikini contest at a bar, Williams’ Avery’s source of torment stems from her high-pitched voice. Alas, the latter is another detail Kohn and Silverstein use as empathy-fuel for her character but still want to throw punches towards her meek, unassertive nature.
The film also exists in that awkward realm for comedies where the material is so close to being funny yet too rarely is that the entire experience feels lethargic and inauthentic. It inundates us with perfectly framed shots of SoulCycle and Zumba equipment, and the aforementioned Target name-drops that go well beyond any reasonable requirements for even the most egregious product placement, as if to remind us that this film is as manufactured as its concluding message. On top of pathos that come proselytized to us in a grating third act and misguided humor that ranges from the mildly funny to the desperate, I Feel Pretty once again misuses Amy Schumer, whose time, at least in big star-vehicles, might be up after what was once a promising debut in a genre that can always use (and misuse) fresh-faces.