- I Feel Pretty
- Written and directed by: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein
- Starring: Amy Schumer
- Classification PG
- 115 minutes
Bridget Jones used to make me feel better about my thighs. Today, I mainly want to strangle Amy Schumer.
Admittedly, it’s been 17 years since Renée Zellweger first incarnated the lumpy British publishing assistant onscreen, and in that time I have probably lost touch with the true state of both girl comedy and my aging body. Still, I don’t think my objections to I Feel Pretty, Schumer’s new comedy about body image, are entirely a matter of demographic obsolescence. Zellweger’s disastrously insecure and overly chatty Bridget had a certain undeniable charm; you felt for her even as you laughed at her. More recently, in the TV series Girls, Lena Dunham’s Hannah is a telling portrait of angsty, millennial self-absorption and has taken the same brand of cringe comedy into more explicit and more socially critical territory. If Bridget just made you laugh, Hannah forces you to examine your discomfort.
And then there’s the less sympathetic Schumer, offering the same characteristically contemporary blend of self-loathing and self-absorption, yet doing it so crassly she can never completely convince me that there isn’t a lot of her own narcissism in these characters. (She played an equally obnoxious, if more confident, figure in Snatched, last year’s attempt to squeeze her raunchy stand-up persona into feature film).
To be fair, in this outing she is saddled with a particularly lame idea. I Feel Pretty, which was written and directed by the screenwriting team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein – she’s a woman; he’s a man – wonders what would happen if an image-obsessed singleton with low self-esteem suddenly believed she was top-model beautiful.
Schumer’s character Renee is a digital grunt working for a major beauty brand in New York. Plump and dateless, she falls from her stationary bike in a spinning class, hits her head on the floor and wakes up believing her body and face have been completely transformed. Since she’s already convinced that physical beauty and thinness are the only criteria for success in the world, she now struts out into it with new confidence while her friends and colleagues, who see no difference in her appearance, marvel at her chutzpah.
Schumer’s actual chutzpah, so boldly showcased in her stand-up and sketch comedy, is not enough to carry this offensive conceit. The notion that the pathetically insecure Renee is an accurate satire of contemporary women is enough to make any feminist cringe; Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, meanwhile, must be spinning so hard they’re churning up mud in the graveyard. And even in her grossly confident new persona, who is mainly just obnoxious, Renee still believes that only physical beauty matters far too late in the game. Of course, she eventually learns that – wait for it – it’s what’s inside that counts, but not until an audience has spent most of the movie with an unpleasant character.
Scenes such as one in which Renee fails to comfort a model who has broken up with a boyfriend because she refuses to believe someone that beautiful can have problems might possibly work as an isolated sketch. As a piece of character work in a feature, they are a disaster, alienating us from a figure whose insecurity becomes a kind of insensitivity to others. Of course, these wild exaggerations are supposed to be funny, but satire takes more smarts and comedy more heart if either is going to fly. A scene in which Renee enters a swimsuit contest should be the occasion for a vicious send-up of the contest itself; instead, it’s mainly an opportunity for Schumer to display her buttocks to the crowd – who inevitably decides it loves this ridiculous figure more than the bikini beauties.
Kohn and Silverstein would do well to make Schumer share the spotlight more. Cast against her usual dramatic type, an almost unrecognizable Michelle Williams does some very funny work as Renee’s impossibly privileged boss, a fluttery neurotic who’s the hereditary CEO of the beauty company. (Lauren Hutton plays her grandmother, the real power behind the brand: The in-joke is that images of her lovely face from Hutton’s own modelling days decorate the office walls).
I also found myself drawn to Rory Scovel’s low-key Ethan, the gentle loner who Renee picks up at the dry-cleaner and who fails to resist her because, as he himself admits, he’s too scared. As I Feel Pretty paints the most garish and unflattering portrait of contemporary female culture, it’s hard not to take refuge in all-too-conventional comforts on the rom side of this ugly com.
I Feel Pretty opens April 20