I FEEL PRETTY: Featured Image

Going into I FEEL PRETTY, I found myself contemplating the plight of popular actresses in Hollywood. Staying well-liked and relevant in Hollywood is, as I’m sure may shock you, far harder for female performers than for their male counterparts. A quick survey of recent It Girls will confirm that. Choosing two at random, Anne Hathaway was dragged for being too enthusiastic, too “theatre kid”-like, and too fake. On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence has been knocked down for being too kooky, too unrefined and, you guessed it, too fake.

Highly successful comedian Amy Schumer has been dancing on the edge of this cliff since the last season of her Comedy Central sketch show. She certainly received plenty of praise for the feminism in her writing. At the same time though, people criticized her for working with a writer with a questionable past, engaging in some arguably body shaming language, her choice of boyfriend, and other issues. While the criticisms may have had some validity, there is no doubt that her rise and then beginning to fall mirrored patterns experienced by other past female entertainers of the moment.

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Regardless, the trailer and promotional materials for Schumer’s I FEEL PRETTY gave fuel to both sides. Some were excited to see her in a less culturally incompetent comedy (after SNATCHED). Others argued that I FEEL PRETTY would be just as problematic because it would imply that women’s worth comes only from their beauty. Or, worse, that it would be an affair in body shaming where the humor would come from a woman of Amy’s size (only in Hollywood, folks) thinking she was attractive.

So how will both sides feel about the final product? Well, if they are at all like me, a bit mixed.

I FEEL PRETTY: Finger licking good
Rory Scovel and Amy Schumer get a taste of the high life in a scene from I FEEL PRETTY (Courtesy of STXfilms)

The Idea Behind I FEEL PRETTY

Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer) has, at first glance, a pretty great life. She works for the company of her dreams, which pays her enough to live in a spacious New York City apartment. Moreover, she has two ride-or-die friends, Jane and Vivian (Busy Philipps and Aidy Bryant). However, it just isn’t enough.

For one thing, she works for the company that she loves from a windowless storage closet. Meanwhile, headquarters stands gleaming blocks away, filled with the kind of women Renee thinks are beautiful. And that’s the second problem. Despite her friends’ insistence otherwise, Bennett hates the way she looks. The hair tutorials on YouTube don’t work for her. The cosmetics she helps sell don’t look the way they do in the ads. Most difficult of all, she dislikes her body.

Then, at her lowest, she suffers a head injury at Soul Cycle. When she comes to, she still looks like herself. Except to herself. From Renee’s perspective, she is as gorgeous as she has always wanted. As gorgeous as her idol and CEO of Bennett’s employer, Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams). As gorgeous as fellow new Soul Cycler Mallory (Emily Ratajkowski).

With her newfound confidence, Bennett gets her first date in quite awhile, her dream job as a receptionist in LeClaire Cosmetics’ home office—at a reduced salary, interestingly—and begins to feel utterly unstoppable.

Of course, nothing lasts forever…

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The Writing

I FEEL PRETTY’s script—from directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein with assistance from Schumer herself—is consistently in conflict with itself. In trying to both elevate Renee post-head injury and stress its body positive messaging, the film is constantly undoing itself. Bennett’s newfound status is from her confidence, but that confidence also alienates her friends. It gets her a new boyfriend, Ethan (Rory Scovel), but also might be leading her into cheating with Avery’s brother Grant (Tom Hopper). She is getting new friends and work opportunities but all those new friends and coworkers seem to be often half-laughing at her.

To be fair, this does mirror a woman’s life now. Be confident but not too confident. Be ambitious but not too ambitious. Try new things but never go too far beyond your station.

The script strikes some odd notes regarding masculinity as well. For instance, Ethan favoring Zumba over the gym is called out as feminine and the reason for several jokes. Additionally, Renee at one point claims he has “several feminine attributes” seemingly because he’s kind and a bit reserved. It’s not bad; it just feels a little weird.

The final bit of internal conflict is characterization. Renee proves well realized. Even if you object to her valuing of beauty or her behaviors, she has layers and you definitely have an understanding of who she is. Everyone else around her? Not really. Her friends are fun and understanding and then annoyed and sick of her. Ethan is a great guy. Grant is a naughty temptation. Avery is very smart but no one knows it because of her voice. And so on. Renee lives a three dimensional life on-screen surrounded by cardboard.

I FEEL PRETTY: None more blonde
Michelle Williams tries to puzzle out a coherent thesis statement in I FEEL PRETTY. (Courtesy of STXfilms)

Casting The Leads of I FEEL PRETTY

Amy Schumer is a talented performer. She still struggles with the deeper emotions, as she did in TRAINWRECK, but she has also improved. Her mid-movie breakdown in a hotel is hard to watch. She lives in the pain of the moment well and pushes it past humor to make you feel uncomfortable.

Also, it has to be acknowledge that Schumer would certainly be described as attractive by a not insignificant number of people. Yes, she is not as thin as, say, her co-stars Michelle Williams or Busy Philipps. But attractive and thin are not the same thing. That said, Schumer utilizes her body well to reflect her character’s feelings about herself. Her Renee pre-head injury presents her as slumped, physically timid, and just spent. Post-injury, she has great posture, her strides are longer, and she looks brighter and more attentive.

I think part of the reason that the trailer received the kind of negative feedback it did does have to do with the feeling that it was presenting Schumer as unattractive. People were understandably feeling, “How dare she act like she isn’t pretty.” However, in context, she makes you believe Renee doesn’t feel pretty, which is really more the point of the movie. Not the reality of attractiveness but the influence of one’s self-esteem on how they view themselves and the world.

Rory Scovel does not have a lot to do as Ethan, but he is a good on-screen presence. More importantly, he gives a good straight man without losing his ability to throw out a punchline. I’m thinking of a scene in particular when he reacts to Renee solving the “mystery” of his work nickname Wheat Thin. It’s her scene but he nails the button.

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Casting the Rest of the I FEEL PRETTY Call Sheet

All hail Michelle Williams. Seriously, shackled with a shockingly high-pitched baby voice, she still manages to bring incredibly dry humor to her third-generation cosmetic magnate and sells it. The character is as thin as can be but she always gets a laugh.

Aidy Bryant similarly does well with little, especially early in the film. Her reveal of her tattoo is an improbable moment that feels funny instead of just silly because of her. Unfortunately, she and Philipps lose most of their fizz after Bennett’s turn.

As noted above, the rest of the actors feel poorly served by the thin script — with only Bennett’s closet co-worker Mason, as played by Adrian Martinez, making much of an impression. Come to think of it, Mason might be the third best character in the movie—behind Renee and Avery.

I FEEL PRETTY: Get off your feet and jump around
Schumer lives it up in I FEEL PRETTY. (Courtesy of STXfilms)

Filming

Comedy directing is hard. It often allows less of a chance to shine than dramatic or action directing. A lot of what makes comedic directing strong is fairly subtle. So I always struggle with how to call out and evaluate comedies on that front.

What I can say is that Kohn and Silverstein trust Schumer and it shows. They give her lots of wide and medium shots to let her physical acting shine but don’t hesitate to pull in close, especially on her eyes, which sell her depression surprisingly well. They also are very good at establishing a sense of place. New York City feels like New York City despite being Boston. Oddly, when the story goes to Boston we get almost no external shots to establish that city. Interior wise as well, though, the movie navigates her apartment, various bars, and a particularly gorgeous hotel that makes the spaces feel real and existed in.

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Striking the Set

I FEEL PRETTY has a lot going on and can’t reconcile it all. Amy Schumer does not lack for commitment but her Renee Bennett feels like the only character to not be stuck in first draft. The movie never settles into a cohesive message about beauty and confidence, and its last dramatic speech, selling a sort of Dove-esque body positive cosmetics line, only serves to deepen that confusion, not resolve it. It isn’t bad and certainly not as anti-woman or body shaming as people feared, but it just can’t get out of its own way a lot of the time.

 

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