I Feel Pretty takes on a familiar cinematic conceit—think Big or body-swap comedies—where a woman named Renee (Amy Schumer) hits her head in an accident during SoulCycle and wakes up in the body of a perfectly gorgeous woman. At least, that’s what she thinks in her head.
In reality, nothing about her outward appearance has changed. Armed with the delusion that she has become a physically different person, however, she walks through life with a newfound confidence. She gains a promotion—kind of—at work. She flirts with a man (Rory Scovel) and takes him out on a date. She walks around with a genuine feeling of having a new lease on life.
Renee’s first encounter with “transformation,” when she awakens in the SoulCycle locker room to a semi-apologetic employee (Sasheer Zamata) who hopes more than anything that she doesn’t try and sue, is a funny one. Here, and throughout the film, Schumer sells the character. Her energy is undeniable.
After this inciting incident, however, the film struggles for avenues to travel down in the comedy department. Most of the script plays off the one joke. The joke that’s in the trailer multiple times, in which Renee’s blind confidence is met with dumbfounded faces. As much as the script thinks so, it isn’t that infectious of a punchline.
What does work is when the film tries for an emotional heart. Schumer and Scovel don’t have the most intoxicating chemistry, but they have moments of humor that feel organic. They have conversations in this film, while their relationship is first blossoming, that have the awkward patter of a first date. The disconnect there makes for moments that are funny because they are grounded in reality, unlike the fantastical premise that loses traction as the joke gets tired.
Outside of this romantic subplot, Michelle Williams, who plays Renee’s boss and the heiress of a cosmetic line, steals the show. The affectation that she has in her voice is fantastic—it is this airy, high-pitched lilt. Given the more dramatic roles that she is known for, this is proof that she can do anything.
Ultimately, I Feel Pretty is presenting a message about the conflicting powers of self-image and conventional standards of beauty portrayed through media. The film first equates the conventional standards with a higher sense of self-confidence and eventually leads to a place where self-confidence, regardless of physical image, trumps the conventional standards.
It is a positive message, as clunky as the process getting to it is. (The big message moment is somehow paradoxically feeding back into the consumerist culture that perpetuates conventional beauty standards, which is a head scratcher…).
The film has received quite a bit of backlash, perhaps due to this clunkiness or merely due to reactionary folks who haven’t even seen the film. But to be sure, the message of the film is a positive one. That is not the issue here.
No, the issue is that the message is presented, with full-blown sincerity, in an otherwise corny rom-com film. Schumer has tried to mix these two sentiments before, to better results, in the film Trainwreck (which, unlike I Feel Pretty, she also wrote). But here, the humor and the messaging and the rom-com formula don’t blend evenly.
And, at the end of the day, it is a comedy that isn’t all that funny.
I Feel Pretty: C
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)