Amy Schumer wants you to think you’ve gotten her new movie all wrong. On I Feel Pretty’s press tour, she says that the backlash—sparked by a seeming fat-shaming trailer—was an overreaction. She insists this is a movie that’s empowering, teaching women to love themselves for who they are, not one that spends much of its screentime mocking a woman for daring to feel confident despite not being top model-level hot. Amy Schumer is full of shit.
Written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, I Feel Pretty follows Renee Bennett (Schumer), a thirty-something with a dead-end job in a Chinatown basement, no boyfriend, and zero self-esteem. She’s convinced that being beautiful would solve everything. Then, one kooky, delusion-sparking concussion later, she thinks her dreams have been answered. Believing herself to be astoundingly beautiful, she faces the world with an unshakeable confidence.
With this newfound self-esteem that’s based purely on her perceived physical appearance, Renee goes out for a job at the fancy make-up company she admires. She dares to ask out a guy, and flirt with a millionaire bachelor who graces the cover of gossip mags. And of course, she treats her friends (the woefully sidelined Busy Philipps and Aidy Bryant) as if they are charity cases who need her hotness to get a date. Yadda yadda yadda, her complete self-obsession isolates her from the people she cares about most. Yadda yadda yadda, she gets another concussion and thinks she’s back to looking like she did before. Yadda yadda yadda, she realizes that her greatest enemy was not her looks but her lack of confidence.
I Feel Pretty is intended as a sort of afterschool special about the value of self-love. But it’s hard to take this message to heart when so much of the film is dedicated to mocking Renee for her bravado. Schumer said in an interview with Vulture that the movie never states that its heroine sees herself as skinnier. But it certainly suggests it. When Renee decides to enter a bikini bod contest, her date is positively shocked and concerned, as he looks to the super skinny women who’d be her competitors. Regarding her “new” body, Renee shakes her plump belly and cheers about her “rock hard abs,” then calls out the glory of her jawline. Later, she compares herself to the Kardashians, but specifically “the Jenner ones,” while her friends look on with abject confusion. And most telling of all is a scene in the lunchroom at work, where two more very skinny, gorgeous women look at her with repulsion as she shovels food into her face and brags she can eat whatever she wants, and “still keep this body.” If these are not fat jokes, then what are they?
Of course, Schumer is not most people’s definitions of fat. Which makes the movie all the more confounding. Personally, I got snagged on the logic (or lack thereof) of the costume design. Renee begins the film deeply self-conscious, yet once she thinks she’s gotten the body of her dreams, she doesn’t change the way she dresses at all. Which seems like a missed opportunity for the make-over montage that’s a beloved trope in female-focused comedies. But moreover, it suggests that Kohn and Silverstein haven’t thought out how such a radical change in a woman’s perception of herself would manifest visually. Which is a real problem for a movie. But I Feel Pretty is as rife with lazy writing as it is skinny women sneering at its heroine. (TOTALLY not a fat-shaming movie!) Renee’s friends seem to exist solely to tell her she’s fun, smart and kind, because nothing about how she behaves in the film will suggest any of the above. Instead, she’ll sulk over their ideas for a group date, and snidely suggest Bryant should wear more make-up, and Philipps should dress better.
Then there’s the half-cooked romance with Ethan (Rory Scovel), a love interest who is routinely mocked for his “feminine” interest in Zumba. If that sounds funny to you, good news! They bring it up at least three times. But outside of this and his endless praise of Renee, Scovel is given nothing to do with this paper-thin character. Which is just as well, as he and Schumer have no chemistry. There’s the brief threat that things might get interesting when an affluent hottie (Tom Hopper) hits on Renee. It seems I Feel Pretty might take a note from The Devil Wears Prada’s love triangle subplot. Or perhaps there’ll be some actual importance to her brewing bond with the company’s embattled CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams)? But no. Despite being a torturous hour and fifty minutes long, these plot threads are left to dangle. Still, there’s no shortage of Schumer falling down or jokes made at her expense. The tone-deafness peaks in the film’s climax, when Renee preaches about all she’s learned. And because this film has zero self-awareness, Renee delivers this speech about self-acceptance as a sales pitch for a makeup line.
Excuse me a moment.
Screenwriters Kohn and Silverstein made their feature directorial debut on this film, and it shows. Aside from a story in shambles, many, many setups are underlit, so the eyes of the actors are obscured, cutting down on the audience’s connection to them. Two-shots are so poorly blocked that you can’t make out the expression of either performer. And there’s a bizarre amount of low angle shots for a movie that’s supposed to be about a woman feeling beautiful. (Pro tip: Low angles do very few of us favors.) Even the very final shot of the film falls out of focus! The cinematography is so bad I began to amuse myself imagining it was a meta-commentary on the movie, purposely reflecting on how amateurish the whole endeavor is. That was a fun way to distract myself from another running gag that just wouldn’t die. But no, this movie is just abysmal, almost entirely.
The only thing about I Feel Pretty worthy of unreserved praise is Michelle Williams. The acclaimed actress is known for indie dramas and mournful eyes that can twist our souls into knots. But here, she does comedy, and easily outclasses Schumer. Willams plays a painfully posh, insanely rich, blindingly beautiful and therefore totally out of touch makeup mogul. And from the moment you hear the breathy baby voice she’s mustered for the part, you’re a goner. Williams gives a playful and masterful send-up of a certain kind of celebrity, making her every graceful motion, confounded glare, and exasperated chirp hilarious. She absolutely steals this movie away from Schumer. Unfortunately for the audience, she’s barely in it.
After the success of Trainwreck, Schumer seemed unstoppable. Then she gave us Snatched, a movie I’ll confess I didn’t see because the trailers bummed me out. After those two R-rated comedies, maybe she aimed to stretch with this PG-13 romp. Maybe she imagined it would be like 13 Going On 30. Maybe Schumer genuinely believes this is empowering and not insulting. But don’t be fooled. I Feel Pretty is as mean-spirited, unfunny, and vapid as its infuriating heroine.