“I Feel Pretty” makes a lot of sense on paper. After becoming America’s foremost chronicler of female self-esteem issues through her Emmy- and Peabody-winning Comedy Central sketch series, Amy Schumer finally has the chance to give her tortured public persona a happy ending.
An average-looking woman (by Hollywood standards) consumed by the desire to be “undeniably pretty” bonks her head, wakes up believing she’s beautiful and learns that her anxieties about her looks kept her from fully embracing life. Confidence, not conventional beauty, was what she needed all along. Like her commitment-phobia rom-com “Trainwreck,” the project is on brand for Schumer, while softening her edges for a broad audience.
So what went so, so wrong?
Written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (first-time helmers who penned “How to Be Single,” “The Vow,” and “He’s Just Not That Into You”), “I Feel Pretty” is an honest-to-God fiasco. Virtually every single aspect of this rigidly unfunny comedy is botched, from the characters to the plot, the themes to the core message.
For a long stretch, Michelle Williams threatens to steal the picture, playing the funniest character she’s played in ages. But ultimately she, too, gets lost in the ineptitude that defines this film.
“I Feel Pretty” was clearly adapted for Schumer’s talents, a sensible move so poorly implemented that it ends up being one of the film’s greatest drawbacks. Schumer’s Renee Bennett is supposed to be an everywoman whose insecurities about her appearance are relatable, if extreme.
She works for Lily LeClaire, an upscale makeup company headed by its namesake founder (Lauren Hutton) and her granddaughter Avery (Williams), but Renee is stuck in a basement outpost, forever looking into the Midtown headquarters from the outside. That is, until a cranial injury during SoulCycle has her convinced that she’s attractive enough to go for a receptionist position at the model-filled main office.
We’re meant to identify with Renee as the woman-next-door gaslighted into thinking she’s an ogre. But Renee is also written as a monstrous egomaniac and a painfully basic bitch, two archetypes that Schumer often plays. The script’s tone-deafness reaches a particularly low point when Renee signs up for a grubby bikini contest at a dank bar on a first date, sticks her finger into a stranger’s mouth — and her good-guy plus-one (Rory Scovel, “The House”) finds her wannabe-stripper antics charming and seductive. Self-love and body acceptance have seldom smelled so much like stale beer.
Renee’s proximity to Avery, a sheltered heiress with a chipmunk voice and a heart of gold leads to the discovery that drugstore-makeup-using Long Island native Renee might be a valuable consultant for Lily LeClaire’s upcoming Target line. Williams masterfully parodies the studied fragility of a certain class of New York women, and Schumer excels in the scenes in which she sells Renee’s self-hatred and her jubilation at being “beautiful.”
But no other character, including Renee’s love interest and her two undifferentiated friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps), has any coherent personality at all. And Renee is so shambolically and jaggedly written that, by the time her big realization-cum-monologue arrives, all I wanted was for her to stop talking.
Occasionally, a human moment glints among the muddle. A late moment when a character points out how sad it is that Renee’s “wildest dream” is merely to be pretty is fleeting but wise. But such lines are all too rare, and ostensibly hilarious ones, like when Renee gets called “sir” by some random dude, are much more common. And the scenes where Renee, an adult woman, learns that conventionally attractive women have problems too simply feel condescending.
The movie that “I Feel Pretty” should have been deserves to be made. This version, in which a narcissist learns to love herself as is, feels far less necessary.