A recent advertising campaign depicted young girls with the tag: I‘m pretty. The twist comes later when words like ‘curious’ and ‘focused’ conclude the statement. It’s terrifically empowering and a jab in the eye at society’s obsession with image. Unlike Amy Schumer’s third stab at film fronting, it completely negates the significance of appearance.
In I Feel Pretty, Schumer plays Renee Barrett, an ‘ordinary’ woman with her eyes fixed – but a world away from – the US fashion industry. Literally so: she works for a 5th Avenue cosmetics company, with an employee cache like a modelling catalogue, but has been dumped in a squalid office in Chinatown. Despite boasting a loveable pair of friends, Renee’s life is dominated both by a crippling sense of inadequacy and drive to look and be someone and something that she isn’t.
While watching Penny Marshall’s Big one night, Renee -inspired to make a wish of her own – runs out into the rain, throws money into a fountain and cries out: ‘I wish I was beautiful!’ Accepting that Schumer already is, Renee’s wish is seemingly granted the next day when she falls off an exercise bike, sustains a head injury and wakes up looking a million dollars. Except, the twist is that to the rest of the world, audience included, she looks exactly the same.
The trailer for I Feel Pretty met a starting backlash on its release earlier this year but unfairly so. Contrary to first impressions, this is no vehicle for body shaming. Written and directed by How to Be Single’s Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein, the film attempts to proclaim the merits of body positivity. When Renee thinks she has become ‘beautiful’, she gains a new lease of life and new confidence to reach for the stars. Thus, the message is: regardless of your appearance to others, self-acceptance is the best way to achieve your dreams.
I Feel Pretty is, ultimately, thoroughly misguided in every respect. The winning, fist pump of a closing act might uncover a heart that is firmly planted in the right place but it’s one that beats erratically through the film itself. Whilst a dearth of solid laughs leave the plot occasionally teetering on boredom, the real issues here root in the conceit itself.
In Big, David Moscow turns into Tom Hanks and there is no doubt that little Josh has become ‘big’. I Feel Pretty has no such clarity. If anything, the film is itself confused as to whether there’s magic at work here or if Renee’s just gone crackers. The fountain and bike scenes strongly suggest the former but almost everything else leans to the later.
Also problematic in this regard is the fact that Renee is, by illusion or delusion, at no point complicit in her own journey. Which is to say that she doesn’t realise she’s making a fool of herself and is therefore being laughed at, not with. It’s surprisingly tragic in effect.
There are glimmers of a better film beneath the contrivances, predominantly due to the sweet chemistry of Schumer and on-screen love interest Rory Scovel, but not enough of them. It’s hard not to pine for a romcom about real people finding their own way to self-appreciation.