I Feel Pretty

I FEEL PRETTY. Starring: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Tom Hooper, and Aidy Bryant. Also, Naomi Campbell. Directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein. Rated M (Comedic sexual references). 110 min.

This American comedy tells the story of an insecure woman, who wakes up after an accident believing that she is the most beautiful woman in the world, and tests the reaction to the perceived change of those around her.

Renee Barrett (Amy Schumer) struggles with her body image, and has trouble finding clothes that are her size. She feels frustrated by her appearance, even to the point that she doesn’t enjoy spending time with her closest friends, like Vivian (Aidy Bryant). Renee can’t attract the attention of a male bartender, has no luck with dating, and makes babies cry when they look at her. She goes to gym classes, but is injured during class with a heavy blow to her head after a fall from her bike that knocks her unconscious. When Renee wakes up and looks in a mirror, her perceptions of herself have changed drastically.

The “new” Renee delights in the way she looks, and she develops a level of confidence that completely dispels her past feelings of insecurity. With the rise in level of her self-esteem, she wears what she wants, moves confidently, and performs outrageously before an appreciative  audience at a nightclub bar. She attracts a good looking man (Tom Hooper), babies don’t cry any more when they look at her, and life generally improves.

This is a film about body positivity that explores the disadvantages of having a negative body image, in every way it can. That theme can be problematic, however, and Amy Schumer takes dramatic risks. The movie asks viewers to accept the fact Schumer is funny when she makes fun of the fact that she is not a thin woman. Renee exudes self confidence by mistakenly seeing herself as thin, which raises issues for people not seeing themselves as Society dictates they ought to be perceived. If this is a film about finding inner beauty and peace, it explores the wrong values for achieving it.

There is an interesting theme in being unfairly judged by appearances, but the movie trades drama for comedy laughs. At a comic level, it superficially says that there are drastic ways of fixing feelings of body insecurity. However, the movie does communicate a social message of worth about feeling good about oneself, and Amy Schumer delivers it in typical comic style. If one stays at the surface of the film, the message is that beauty is based on real confidence, not what others perceive it should be, but the movie treads a thin line between humour, drama, physical comedy, and body positivity.

The film’s best scenes come when Renee is compared with a traditionally beautiful actress (Emily Ratajkowski), who happens to feel insecure. The humour in their interaction makes a dramatic point in an insightful way. “Appearances” can be deceptive, the film says, and real worth is inner, not outer in judged physical appearance, and the film’s humour targets society in the way in which women with different bodies are treated differently. Australia’s Michelle Williams plays Avery LeClaire, the head of the cosmetics company where Renee works, and she pointedly plays a life size version of a “Barbie” doll to explicitly reinforce the film’s main message.

All negative comments about the plotline of the movie aside, Schumer is a very good comedienne. She typically extracts laughs in a self-deprecating way and when she does that she is in her element. She trades on vulnerability in her routines by making fun of herself, but it’s  ironic that her comic talents work best in this movie when she is not the person she really is. 

The film is well produced, and has good cinematography, but, ultimately, it is a slender movie with an obvious message that is delivered sentimentally. And Amy Schumer works as hard as she can to tell us that we should never doubt ourselves, and “what I am is me”.

Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Entertainment One Films

Released April 19th., 2018


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