A woman suffers an embarrassing fall at the gym that comes with a surprising bonus – radical self-acceptance based on the belief that she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. Is her newfound confidence something that will stick around once her concussion heals, or will she sink back into the depression of her self-imposed reality?
[Review contains mild spoilers.]
I Feel Pretty’s plot revolves around Renee Barrett (Amy Schumer) and her low self-esteem, which she bases solely on her looks, despite having a seemingly great life. When Renee suffers a concussion after slipping off her bike in a Soul Cycle class, her world is immediately transformed because when she comes to, she doesn’t see “herself.” Instead she touches her reflection in wonder, for she has been miraculously transformed into someone beautiful! (The catch, of course, is that she looks exactly the same and the radical shift is all in her mind.)
Prior to the painful accident, we see Renee getting shamed in a variety of settings – at a retail store where she’s told her size can only be found online, to the gym where she requests “double-wide shoes… double-wide, like the trailer.” This Renee, though obviously under some emotional duress, is actually fun – she’s humble, thoughtful, and gregarious. She’s also bolstered by two awesome best friends, Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps), who have endless amounts of fun together. Another bonus is Renee’s job, working in New York on the website for LeClaire Cosmetics, a high-end makeup brand that she’s obsessed with. Sure, she’s stuck in the basement (bafflingly located in Chinatown, while the rest of the company is in a shiny high-rise adjacent to Bryant Park) with her awkward coworker, Mason (the hilarious Adrian Martinez); but she loves the work she does, and it affords her a decent lifestyle, with a livable wage, in one of the world’s most expensive and vibrant cities. (Isn’t that the ultimate dream?)
Woot, I’m at the gym! [Photo Credit]
So what’s wrong? Though Renee is blonde, successful, and slender, she just doesn’t feel like enough. And enough in Renee’s world is to be pretty. Not just pretty, but undeniably gorgeous. Nothing short of being considered a stunning model, apparently, is able to fill the void in Renee.
And that, my friends, sums up the drive of, and problem with, the plot. I will concede that I shouldn’t be surprised, given that it’s the title of the film. But really, every single moment of the nearly two-hour run time is devoted to Renee’s looks. She doesn’t seem to have anything else brewing in her brain. Furthermore, the audience isn’t given anything else to cleave to when it comes to the main character. There’s no background story: we don’t know if she has a family, where she came from, what she enjoys for hobbies, if she has a political or spiritual preference. We also don’t know if she had a traumatic experience that precipitated this painfully low self-image. She’s just goofy Renee, who we’re supposed to root for simply because she’s goofy Renee. Implied in this blank canvas of a character is the assumption that we (i.e. the female viewer) are supposed to see ourselves on the screen, identifying with this empty vessel. If you’re offended now, just wait!
It is painful to watch Renee, in both her insecure and uber-confident modes. First the insecure: the main issue being that Renee acts like (and is sometimes treated like) she is morbidly obese. This is just freaking frustrating all around, especially for people who carry much more than the small “spare tire” Renee is so ashamed of. If she’s inflicting that amount of body shaming on herself, what is someone who is truly “fat” supposed to feel while watching this? (Sure, it’s just a movie, but the implication here is that this is representative of “real women.”)
Why not throw in a wet t-shirt contest while we’re at it? [Photo Credit]
But the true problem is what happens when she is transformed into her most beautiful self, for that person is insufferable. When Renee awakens from a frightfully severe blow to the head (seriously, why weren’t paramedics called?), she embraces her “new” look in the mirror with a fervor that is unshakeable, and from there it proceeds to be the only thing she talks about. And this is what was so confusing – the whole movie is purported to be about self-esteem, but it’s really exclusively about the surface factor of looks. Simply being hot is not the core of feeling good about oneself. It can surely be an enjoyable benefit, but it’s mainly a genetic roll of the dice. Inner well-being is the important source a person creates for him or herself over a lifetime.
The scriptwriters, creative partners Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, are no strangers to the rom com genre, having penned Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day, and How To Be Single. With that amount of experience, it seems that this should’ve been a slam-dunk. Instead it’s a lukewarm pandering to female empowerment that’s really a veiled slap in the face. At the very least, the script was written by two people who seem to have no idea what self-esteem really is. For instance, when Renee believes she is the hottest thing ever, she talks incessantly about how amazing she looks in such a rapid-fire, non-stop way that I wrote in my notes, “How’s the cocaine?”
Apparently self-esteem also equals endlessly bragging about one’s killer body and not much else. Take the sex scene, for example. Renee is astride Ethan (yep, those are words I just had to type in my lifetime) and she locks eyes with herself in the mirror as they “do it.” Insert all the self-love puns/thoughts/analogies/actualities here, but note that Renee is not gazing at herself with love, which would be great! No, she’s looking at herself as she fucks her boyfriend for the first time because she’s so enamored with her reflection. Sure, that can be good for all sorts of sexy times – I’m not here to deny that. But, again, the point here is that the self-esteem is coming from an external force, not an internal one. It’s less sex play and more full on Narcissus. And man, my mind is in the gutter today, so I’ll just stop here and let you mull all this over.
Wanna see my Hidden Valley Ranch? [Photo Credit]
Another unfortunate side effect to this supposed self-esteem, according to the writers, is treating other people like crap. Because when you feel good about yourself, you naturally want to shit on your friends! As soon as Renee feels like she’s on top of the world, she starts to dismiss her best gal pals (who are portrayed as average, but are both real life stunners in their own right) in favor of hanging out with the model-types that populate her work. (In addition to her new glow, Renee also boldly muscles her way into a promotion, finally moving out of the satellite basement location and finding footing at the Bryant Park office she’s so yearned for.)
Renee gets her comeuppance when she hits her head again (this time in the shower at a fancy hotel as she tries to avoid advances from her boss’s handsome brother), an act that reawakens her former feelings about herself. She descends into a spiral of self-pity when she looks in the mirror and decides the “magic” is gone. So deep is her despair that she stops going to work and breaks up with her boyfriend. She does try to lean on her friends, but finds they’re (rightfully) not willing to indulge her after she treated them so poorly. Mind you, she ruins her life because she doesn’t feel pretty. That’s it. That’s all that’s wrong. She’s got a career, a home, love, her health – the list goes on. But she’s brought to her knees, wallowing in booze and ice cream, because she doesn’t feel cute. That is some privileged bullshit right there if I’ve ever seen it.
There are highlights in the casting, most notably the aforementioned Adrian Martinez as Renee’s basement coworker, Mason, doing his best to shine in a small role, and Rory Scovel as Ethan, Renee’s sweet love interest. (Scovel is a phenomenally talented standup comedian. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform and highly recommend catching his act if you can.)
Don’t tell anyone, but I’m kind of an asshole. [Photo Credit]
Michelle Williams and Lauren Hutton deserve their own shout-outs, with Michelle as Renee’s boss, Avery LeClaire, and Hutton as Avery’s mother, LeClaire Cosmetics matriarch, Lily. Williams adopts a breathy baby voice for Avery that is bizarre, but it is fun to see her in a rare comedic role. The legendary Hutton is also a welcome addition. The group is ably fleshed out by Emily Ratajkowski as Mallory, a beautiful woman Renee is obsessed with, Sasheer Zamata as Tasha, a saucy gym employee, and Dave Attell as a mouthy bikini contest emcee. It’s an engaging combination of actors that puts this mainly mediocre film into a watchable category.
I just saw this movie and I’ve already forgotten about it. All pomp and circumstance, no substance. It sits firmly in the middle of “meh,” waiting for you to rent it on an airplane when you’re trapped with time to spare.
I Feel Pretty (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Renee insults or exalts herself.
Take a Drink: every time every time you root for Renee’s kick-ass friends.
Take a Drink: every time you wonder, “Why did Avery need to talk like a baby?”
Take a Drink: every time you wonder if this movie is based off how Amy Schumer feels when she hangs out with Jennifer Lawrence.
Take a Drink: if you feel like Amy Schumer is sending mixed messages between her stand-up and movie roles.
Do a Shot: for the random Hidden Valley Ranch shout-out.
Do a Shot: for all things Busy Phillips – she’s the screenwriter’s (Marc Silverstein’s) wife and Michelle Williams’ best friend.
No extra scenes, and the exit music is surprisingly, or perhaps fittingly, maudlin.