Amy Schumer Shows That Confidence Equals Success in ‘I Feel Pretty’
Since the release of its trailer, “I Feel Pretty,” a female-driven comedy that deals with body image, has been the center of controversy. Amy Schumer stars as Renee Bennett, a woman in her thirties who would be considered privileged by most standards. White end educated, Renee works a job that is far from glamorous, but if affords her the luxury of living in New York City. Her one major flaw is not her less-than-perfect body, as she may think, but her lack of self-confidence, which is contributed to her being slightly overweight. Sure, most women wish they could change something about their appearances, but Renee takes it to the next level, even going as far as to take a cue from the little boy in “Big” and make a wish in a fountain. On the flipside, her best friends, Jane (Busy Phillips) and Vivian (Aidy Bryant), neither of whom meet societal standards of the ideal beauty, don’t share their in their friend’s dissatisfaction and often find themselves exasperated by Renee’s quest to run with the popular kids. Things take a turn after Renee sustains a head injury following an accident at a SoulCyle class and comes to perceiving herself to be beautiful, setting in motion a new path in life brought on by her newfound confidence. Although it’s impossible for a 110-minute film to properly explore body issues and shaming from every angle, it does uncover some truths about what it’s like to be a woman existing in today’s society.
Much of the criticism of “I Feel Pretty,” which is mostly based off its trailer and not the film itself, has to do with the fact that it takes a head injury for a woman who is not a size 2 to believe that she is attractive. However, the film adequately explores just how pervasive body issues are amongst women of all types, especially in the industry in which Renee is employed, beauty. With her much-improved self-esteem, Renee goes ahead and applies for a receptionist position at the at the company she works for, high-end cosmetics brand Lily LeClaire. This new opportunity is not exactly a promotion, but it would mean her moving from a shabby basement office to the company’s glitzy headquarters. Her enthusiasm easily wins her the position, and eventually the confidence of Ms. LeClaire’s (Lauren Hutton) granddaughter, Avery (Michelle Williams), who is in the midst of preparing to launch an economical line of cosmetics for Target. As luck would have it, outspoken “regular gal” Renee proves to be the perfect person to offer her insight into the mind of the Target shopper. Avery, though beautiful, wealthy and educated, has her own insecurities due to her baby doll voice. There is another key, though somewhat underdeveloped, character in this world, and that is a model (Emily Ratajowski) whom Renee befriends at SoulCyle who is revealed to be living a life that is far from the charmed existence Renee envisioned, really driving home the point that virtually all women fall victim to their own insecurities.
However, it’s not all hugs and rainbows when it comes to the female relationships in the world of “I Feel Pretty,” as the film uncovers another sad truth. For the most part, Renee’s biggest critic is herself, but that’s not to say the unwanted opinions of others don’t play a factor in her poor self-image pre-head injury. Sadly, most of the negativity comes from other women, including a saleswoman who is quick to inform her that her store does not carry her size. There’s also the usually solid Sasheer Zamata as an unnecessarily snide SoulCycle employee, a character who is less than believe in this world of fitness where the aim is to sell an image and take money from hopeful women by whatever means necessary. As many can attest, women body shaming each other is a real problem in society, and even Renee partakes in this cruelty at the expense of her own friend towards the end, showing a truly ugly side of herself for the first time, before she reigns it in.
Some of the most fun and playful scenes in the film involve Renee’s romance with Ethan (Rory Scovel), a cameraman she aggressively pursues following a meet-cute at a dry cleaners. On their first date, Ethan jokes about having only accepted the invite because he was scared what would happen to him otherwise, but, all jokes aside, what Schumer does best here is prove that nothing is sexier than confidence. In a scene that is being heavily publicized, Renee, during this first date, makes the impromptu decision to enter a bikini contest, and while she doesn’t earn the top prize, she earns respect, as weird as that sounds, from not only Ethan, but also the bar owner (Dave Attell in a hilarious cameo), who expresses admiration for her feisty spirit. In addition to this fighting spirit, Schumer brings an endearing quality to the role, and it’s doubtful that any other actress could have made it work quite like her. The generically handsome Tom Hopper rounds out the cast as a rival suitor for Renee, Avery’s rather attractive but banal brother Grant.
What makes “I Feel Pretty” work, for the most part, is the fact that much of the humor comes from not so much at laughing at Renee herself, but from her delusion, her somehow believing that some magical spell has changed her, when inside and outside she is still the same women, just with more confidence. The message is clear: true beauty and confidence come from within. As cliche as that may sound, it’s a message that needs to be heard in a world where females are inundated with images and messages from a young age telling them what a perfect woman ought to be.
Despite this positive message, “I Feel Pretty,” does include a few unnecessary scenes in which the women are the butt of the joke. One involves Renee being mistaken for a man in a drug store, while the other involves her, Jane and Vivian receiving zero views on an online dating site, the latter being an especially cheap laugh.
“I Feel Pretty” opens April 20 nationwide.