I Feel Pretty (Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.
In Amy Schumer’s new comedy, I Feel Pretty, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, writers of Never Been Kissed and How to Be Single, each take a seat in the director’s chair for the first time and shed light on the harsh expectations of the beauty industry while poking a little fun at the romantic comedies whose protagonists are blessed with contrived magical abilities. Schumer plays Renee Bennett, your average New York City working woman who lives a stagnant life as an I.T. specialist at an elite women’s beauty company. Day in and day out, she tries to emulate the gorgeous women she sees walking around at the headquarters of her job, but to no avail; Renee ends up looking worse off, convinced her life will be stuck in a rut forever. Renee’s luck turns after she knocks herself unconscious at an ill-fated Soul Cycle session. She awakes and looks in the mirror and sees a beautiful woman looking back at her. Renee’s one wish has been granted and now she’s off to live the life she’s always wanted. The only catch is everyone around her and the audience don’t see a beautiful model but the same old Renee they’ve always known.
Amy Schumer’s Renee perfectly fits the mold of the popular 1990s romantic lead, commonly portrayed by Meg Ryan. Renee’s problems aren’t like the shallow and frivolous obstacles Ryan faced in You’ve Got Mail or Kate & Leopold. Renee isn’t wallowing in wanting the perfect life as she works in a top-level advertising executive position and lives in a nice New York City apartment. Renee’s woes stem from societal and industry expectations of beauty which have plagued women for centuries. This is a more realistic obstacle to rally against. When Schumer rants to her friends about the unbelievable hoops and hurdles women like her must jump through just to feel as confident as supermodels displayed in Times Square, we are right there with her—never once rolling our eyes.
Surprisingly enough, Kohn and Silverstein do not so much deconstruct the clichés of past romantic comedies infused with some sort of magic like What Women Want and 13 Going On 30 as acknowledge that they exist, repurpose them as familiar plot points and then move on to the next person’s confused reaction to Schumer’s abnormal self-confidence. The best parts come when Renee brags about her new, non-existing good looks and her love interest, played by Rory Scovel, and her girlfriends, played by Busy Philipps and SNL’s Aidy Bryant, and they just do not get it. Is there a punch line? Because all they see is this women’s mass delusions. These scenes are funny enough, and you almost have as much sympathy for the people around Renee as you do for her, but there’s something missing.
Michelle Williams plays Schumer’s beautiful but extremely naïve and ditzy boss who has trouble relating to the women who buy her company’s products. She plays the role of the corporate overlord to the letter (right down to Williams having an over-the-top Marilyn Monroe-type voice), but Kohn and Silverstein were smart enough to allow a character like this to have insecurities of her own and play a part in the overall message about women loving every part of themselves despite what society demands them to think. I Feel Pretty never quite meets the potential of parodying the more contrived entries in its genre, but you’ll leave knowing Amy Schumer offered a lot of laughs in regards to the film’s funny premise and gave a positive message about the outrageous beauty standards in American society.