Actor/comedian Amy Schumer uses her comedic platform to poke fun at society’s gender hypocrisy and its obsession with physical perfection. Her trademark outlandish, bold brand of humour often relies on self-deprecation, particularly concerning her looks. But, at the same time, she champions a vital message: that women should embrace body positivity and be happy and confident with who they are.
So Schumer’s latest comedy, I Feel Pretty, in which she plays Renee, a woman who struggles with poor body image and low self-esteem —until she wakes up after an accident with newfound confidence, convinced she is beautiful — would seem to be a fitting role for the actor. The film, written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, asks how much our perception of beauty is in the mind. But its premise is also a troubling one. It implies that women cannot have confidence and self-esteem without conforming to society’s idea of flawless beauty and that it takes an external or magical force — or a bump on the head —to achieve this.
Set in New York, Renee works on the fringes for a glamorous cosmetics business from a dank, Chinatown basement office with aspirations of moving to the company’s shimmering Fifth Avenue head office. In her spare time she spends hours following YouTube hair and make-up videos and hangs out with her two best friends, Jane (Busy Philipps) and Viv (Aidy Bryant). After a series of humiliations and, inspired by the film, Big, she throws a coin into a fountain and wishes to be beautiful. The following day, she hits her head in a spin class and although, on awakening, she has a different view of herself, her appearance remains unchanged to those around her. Bizarrely, nobody tells her that.
What follows is a drastic shift in Renee’s behaviour and attitude. Her endearing, shlubby, former self is replaced by a character emboldened by an assertiveness and frankness that leads to new job opportunities at her company’s HQ and romance with a gentle man, Ethan (Rory Schovel). A slapstick setpiece in which Schumer participates in a frenzied, irrepressible dance in a boardwalk bar bikini contest while on a date, embodies this new Renee. “You know who you are and don’t care how the world see you,” Ethan tells her. But her brashness eventually results in alienating her friends and when the ‘magic’ is broken, Renee is forced to examine who she is, in a superficial Hollywood way that eventually results in self-belief and success.
Schumer is funny but dominates the film to the extent that the supporting cast is squeezed to the sidelines, including Michelle Willliams who stars as the company’s VP and whose cartoonish looks and squeaky voice are played for weak laughs. Perhaps I Feel Pretty is simply supposed to be a feel-good film. It’s not clear what it is — a humorous, fantasy tale or a satire on society’s stereotype of women.
Schumer has said that she insisted in no cinematic retouching of her body for the film but despite this nod to authenticity, I Feel Pretty is clunky and shallow. Sadly, Schumer’s influential voice has been wasted in a role that could have been as loud and inspiring as her standup.