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I Feel Pretty

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Whether you enjoy or pass on Amy Schumer’s brand of comedy, she always ends up being talked about. In I Feel Pretty we go in expecting a sort of reverse-Shallow Hal, a girl-power call to loving yourself, but we come out feeling not quite as uplifted as the film intended.

Renee (Schumer) works for cosmetics giant Lily LeClaire, but it’s not the glamourous job you might think: she’s stuck (for some reason) in a dim Chinatown office with an uncommunicative code-writing coworker named Mason. Renee is trying to dial her appearance up a bit: the first few minutes of the film will be painfully familiar to some of us as YouTube beauty fails are as real as Pinterest fails, and Renee is presented as so average (not ugly) that she just doesn’t even register on people’s radar.

During a timid foray into a SoulCycle class, Renee has a cringe-worthy accident and ends up nursing a horrible whack on the head. When she wakes up and looks at herself in the mirror, though, she marvels that she’s become beautiful. This sets up the gags for most of the remaining movie: as Renee skips around town, enjoying her hotness, others are baffled by her semi-lunatic behavior. Her confidence shoots up, and she ends up scoring a job at Lily LeClaire HQ on Fifth Avenue. A boyfriend and a promotion soon follow accordingly, again due to her newly-scored cojones. I don’t have to spell out how things inevitably go downhill from there; the film is fairly unapologetic about being predictable.

First, the good: we’re never told or see what Renee sees, and it’s never explicitly said that she sees herself as thinner (thank God), as opposed to Shallow Hal where pretty = thin is practically the tagline of the movie. Schumer herself has pointed this out in interviews, and it’s true that the whack to the head may have actually resulted in Renee appreciating what she really looked like and forgetting her previous self-doubt.

The not-so-good: there is a strong obvious message of “Love yourself! You’re beautiful!” from this movie, but unfortunately, it’s viciously undercut by a silent current of loathing toward the beautiful that the writers apparently didn’t catch. Almost every single remotely attractive person in the film is portrayed as shallow, mean, snobbish, elitist, etc. Renee herself becomes incredibly cruel and condescending toward her friends and others during her walk on the beautiful side. While talking to Mallory (Emily Ratajkowski), the One Beautiful Person who had been nothing but friendly and kind to Renee, about Mallory’s recent breakup, Renee can’t be bothered to comfort crying Mallory because she’s too busy spitting out things like “Things like that happen to you? Shut up! I want to punch you right in the face! Do you have all the ribs I have?” Even when Mallory confesses to having painfully low self-esteem, Renee essentially calls her dumb. It was all about Renee and her reactions in that scene, and that reaction is something along the lines of BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE CAN ALL SHUT UP. YOU DON’T HAVE PROBLEMS AND YOU DON’T DESERVE TO HAVE FRAILTIES OR BAD DAYS SO GO WALK A RUNWAY SOMEWHERE, BYE!

Another reoccurring gag that completely negates the theme I Feel Pretty is trying to peddle is the repeated use of Renee’s coworker Mason for comedy: his own weight, social awkwardness, low self-esteem and appearance are pummeled repeatedly as punchlines, and that is never apologized for. It’s an unforgivable choice to make in a movie that keeps insisting that appearances don’t really matter and we should accept ourselves and each other.

I understand where writer/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein were trying to go with this film, but they oversimplified it, and badly. I walked out feeling very disappointed and not at all uplifted.

I Feel Pretty is streaming now on the following services:
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