Rating: 1 star
‘I Feel Pretty” suffers from a fatal flaw: its premise. Built around the notion that there’s something inherently hilarious — even crazy — about a woman not supermodel-thin or -gorgeous behaving with the confidence of one who is, the comedy treats its star, Amy Schumer, as if she were Chris Farley in the SNL skit “Chippendales Audition.” In that classic sketch from 1990, the late actor — nearly 300 sloppy pounds of him — does a sexy striptease next to a sweetly nervous, and very buff, Patrick Swayze. It’s funny — or at least it was — because Farley, dancing without his shirt on to Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend,” presents himself as hideous.
But that was 28 years ago, and body shaming is no longer cool or funny.
Schumer plays Renee, an ordinary, if slightly insecure, woman who wakes up from a head injury with the confidence of Beyoncé. And how dare she, the film suggests. In one scene, her character enters a boardwalk-bar bikini contest in her street clothes, a sight that’s meant to induce gales of laughter, but delivers mostly groans instead. In that set piece, Renee loses the contest but captures the heart of her romantic interest, Ethan (Rory Scovel), because of her unselfconscious verve.
The message? Personality is more important than rock-hard abs.
Yet that otherwise fine idea is undermined by the entire subtext of the movie, in a disconnect that encapsulates all that is wrong with it. Though “I Feel Pretty” is intended to deliver a message of empowerment — women should feel good about themselves without struggling to meet unreasonable standards of beauty — it ends up making the exact opposite point. If you don’t look like Emily Ratajkowski, the film says, a rail-thin model and actress who has a small role, you’re unworthy of attention and love. The bikini contest is only funny if you buy into the movie’s antiquated, pernicious notion that no woman who looks like Amy Schumer ought to be that comfortable in her own body.
In other words, “I Feel Pretty” wants to eat its cake and have it, too — inviting us to laugh at women because of how they look, while scolding us for doing so.
There are other problems. Written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (the writers of “Never Been Kissed,” making their directorial debut), “I Feel Pretty” presumes that conventionally attractive women — or at least the vast majority of them in this film — are stuck-up jerks. When Renee asks a pretty woman on the street where she got her dress, and learns that it’s from Target, Renee whispers, cattily, “Aren’t girls like us so lucky that we can shop anywhere and still look fly as hell?” (The other woman rolls her eyes, as if to say, “What do you mean, ‘girls like us’?”)
That Target reference — along with scenes that namecheck SoulCycle and Zumba and a plot that centers on Renee’s employer, a high-end cosmetics company preparing to enter the mass-market makeup business — lend the film not verisimilitude, but a sickly veneer of consumerism and brand worship.
Later, when Renee and Ethan are having sex and he catches her looking at herself in the mirror, he says — incongruously, given his own unpretentiousness — “That is so hot.” It’s yet another mixed message, suggesting that superficial self-regard is both desirable and, later in the film, during Renee’s inevitable speech about inner beauty, deplorable.
But all of this would be moot if “I Feel Pretty” managed to be even remotely funny. Schumer, so incisive and so woke in early seasons of her Comedy Central series “Inside Amy Schumer,” which she created and which won multiple Emmys, seems to have gotten lazy. Beauty isn’t always effortless, it seems, but comedy is really, really hard.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains sexual material, some partial nudity and strong language. 110 minutes.