Amy Schumer’s new film I Feel Pretty takes on body image by being a body-swap comedy along the lines of Big (which is specifically featured as a reference), and The Nutty Professor. As a star vehicle trundling down the beaten path, it doesn’t really get to where it wants to go, but amid its flaws, there’s a whole mess of good intentions that are quite appealing.
Schumer plays Renee, a website manager whose big ambitions are stymied by her insecurity over her appearance. Despite the reassurance of her best friends Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps), she hates the way she looks and even resorts to wishing to be beautiful at a fountain during a thunderstorm, after a late night viewing of a certain Tom Hanks movie.
However, counter to most of these films, the gag is that there’s no magic involved. Instead, a head injury at a hectic spinning class leaves Renee with an entirely different idea of how she looks. Her new-found confidence turns heads, including those of the higher-ups at the cosmetics company where she works, and shy guy Ethan (Rory Scovel), while she remains oblivious to the fact that she hasn’t physically changed at all.
The problem with these body-centric comedies is usually that they resolve in a message about how it’s what’s inside that counts, but most of their laughs come from showing up its characters in contrast to conventional beauty standards. So it goes here, complete with cameos from supermodels Naomi Campbell and Emily Ratajkowski to reinforce the norm, without doing enough to subvert it.
To their credit, writer-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein do a good job of rounding out the supporting cast (they generously give Ratajkowski’s character an inner life over a number of scenes, even if she’s never actually named on-screen) and make it clear that everyone has the same kind of hang-ups as the protagonist. We’ve all had days where we don’t feel so hot, and the script smartly and gently burrows into several of the other characters to explore their weaknesses too.
Where they fall down on that score is that it’s still a Hollywood comedy, and their attempts to score laughs by undercutting these smarter moments for juvenile gags feel lazy. It’s the sort of thing that leaves the film’s tone feeling off-balance, despite Schumer’s truly selfless physical performance.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in a setpiece where the newly embolded Renee enters a wet t-shirt competition. Sure, she doesn’t look like her fellow competitors, but as an idea, that’s only actually funny if you’re laughing at her rather than with her, and it doesn’t really sit right. Overall, the film doesn’t do nearly enough with the really funny idea that Renee is convinced that she’s undergone a magic transformation, because she hardly tells anybody else. And for 110 minutes, it’s just not that funny.
That is, with the exception of Michelle Williams. She plays Avery LeClaire, the cosmetics company heiress whose weakness is that she sounds like an idiot, or at least she reckons she does. As with Renee, the film isn’t making her the object of fun because she’s ditzy, but because she’s very intelligent and accomplished, but confidence issues that come from her having the voice of a My Little Pony character.
More than just a one-joke role, Williams gets many of the best one-liners and makes Avery a hysterically sweet premise every time she simpers into a scene. Often, we’ll see actors of her stature try their hand at a broad comedy role and miss the mark, but she resuscitates the film every single time she shows up.
Williams is the standout performer by a mile, but as a film, I Feel Pretty winds up in a predicament similar to its characters. It is a very broad 12A comedy, and despite its big heart and thoroughly decent intentions, it doesn’t feel like itself when it’s angling for laughs. It would be great to have liked this more for what it is, in keeping with its agreeable message, but sadly, it falls flat.
I Feel Pretty is in UK cinemas now.