I do like the idea of it: Woman with debilitating low self-esteem suffers a (non-life threatening) head injury with the only side effect to emerge; that of being entirely happy in her own skin. In addressing unrealistic expectations and body dysmorphia – universal girl angst – the film is well intentioned.
But the yarn has its flaws.
Schumer’s character Renee is dissatisfied with the way she looks, believing she is bottom of the pile because she’s not “undeniably pretty”. She then smacks her head on a bike during a spin class and when she looks in the mirror following the incident, she sees herself as supermodel material despite her appearance not having changed one jot. She goes on to ‘live her best life’ with the confidence that being a stereotypically world-class hottie supposedly brings.
The trouble is Schumer did not fall out of the ugly tree and smack into every branch on the way down. Therefore, the message is confused. The film is about someone who is half an inch from being conventionally Hollywood attractive, but give her a ponytail and remove her make-up and she is supposed to be ugly?
The whole foundation is that it is ‘ridiculous’ that Schumer’s character should ever feel good about herself. Renee is constantly met with eye rolls, confused faces and dumb-founded reactions when she speaks highly of herself and her looks post-bonce thwack.
Early on, the film piles the humiliations on Renee. When she goes to the gym, she cannot find shoes wide enough for her elephant-sized feet. Her exercise bike collapses under her weight. Not even her slovenly work colleague Mason (Adrian Martinez), who spends most of his time pleasuring himself or struggling with extreme constipation, finds her attractive.
The best jokes stem from audience embarrassment as Renee, fresh from concussion, misinterprets everything going on around her. When a builder tries to attract a mate’s attention, she is sure he is wolf whistling at her. When a man in the dry cleaners asks her number, she immediately concludes he is airing a chat up line, not checking her place in the queue. At first, said chap Ethan (Rory Scovel) is bewildered by her effrontery, but he is soon charmed by it and their romance begins to blossom. An aspiring cinematographer, he is almost as gauche as she used to be. He tells her admiringly that she is the one person he knows who is entirely comfortable in her own body.
She becomes so enamoured with herself that she can take on any challenge – an impromptu appearance in a bikini contest for starters. In one of the film’s stranger moments, we see her having sex with her new boyfriend. Her attention isn’t really on him, though. She can’t stop looking in orgasmic adoration at her own face in the mirror – a thin line between confidence and narcissism.
Pulling back from the wearisome self-obsession for a moment, the film takes some well-observed digs at the beauty industry. Renee works in a dead-end job in a dank basement office, compiling data for top end New York cosmetics firm Lily LeClair. The firm is presided over by the chic, sophisticated but squeaky-voiced Avery (a fine funny performance from Michelle Williams) – who of course has the most significant self-doubt and loathing of the lot and is actually envious of Renee’s down-to-earth qualities. We learn all the predictable lessons about beauty being skin deep.
There are echoes of Shallow Hal and The Nutty Professor about this film, but it feels flimsy and that it misses the mark. The irony of Hollywood commenting that we should love ourselves, wobbly bellies and all, is not lost.
Trying to look at the positives with my feminist bonnet atop, it features at least two women who talk about something other than a man. And it has a woman in the lead role. That’s it. However, the fat shamming and skinny shaming and mental health dismissals (Emily Ratajkowski’s plays Renee’s friend and she threatens to ‘punch her in her dumb face’ when she expresses some insecurities and body hang-ups, suggesting she is not allowed because of the way she looks) are problematic.
“Change your mind, change your body, change your life” is the slogan of the gym where Renee goes at the start of the film. I Feel Pretty, though, wants to have it both ways: to celebrate glamour, wealth and conventional good looks while also arguing it does not matter if you are the ugly duckling as long as you believe in yourself. The overall message is hard to decipher, but Schumer is enough of a comic force to drag it to the end credits