The premise of I Feel Pretty has raised many an eyebrow since the first publicity materials found their way online. The elevator pitch is something like this; ‘an insecure, overweight woman, after being dinged on the head, wakes up believing herself to be beautiful, leading to a confidence that changes her life’. You’d be right in thinking that this sounds like Shallow Hal crossed with a 2015 Buzzfeed listicle.
The film is exhaustingly earnest. For a story with such an obvious message the directing/writing team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein go to great lengths to make double and triple sure that you really get it. The result is that many scenes are both squeamishly syrupy while also being eye rolling didactic.
Furthermore, obliviously the film is borderline insulting given that star Amy Schumer is after all an attractive person. She’s a young, pretty, blonde woman. She adheres to most conventional beauty standards, just not all of them. It’s not that wringing comedy from insecurity is impossible, many good-looking people are insecure. However, the movie is too much from the lead’s perspective to come across as a commentary on this. You’ll spend most of the duration wanting to shout ‘Just learn the obvious thing!’ at the protagonist.
The plot largely revolves around Schumer’s Renee convincing an upmarket cosmetics brand to adopt the same marketing strategy that Dove has been using for a decade to hawk its products. It’s as if the idea of marketing to normal women is a revolutionary concept. This is Hollywood pablum with a woke veneer.
When the film isn’t holding your hand so you understand it’s very complex message of ‘Hey, don’t get too hung up on looks, love yourself’ there are some solidly entertaining comic moments. One exchange involving thinking of an excuse to avoid the advances of a veiny armed hunk did have me guffawing. When Schumer, who didn’t write the screenplay, is allowed be her charming, vulgar self some scenes come alive. Mostly, though, she feels squandered in this and the decision to play the character as outright crazy drains away much of her natural charm. The supporting cast which includes Michelle Williams as a beautiful career woman frustrated by her Marilyn Monroe voice and Adrian Martinez as a maladapted IT guy are all pitching in and help to create a gallery of fun, memorable faces to surround the film’s often manic centre.
There’s a much funnier, more incisive film in here than what made it to screen. I Feel Pretty was a potentially fine comedy that was torpedoed by its impulses to be preachy and sincere to a fault. In all its preachy sincerity it reminded me of, yes really, the God’s Not Dead franchise; films that are literally a form of preaching to US Christians. I really hope Schumer gets to write a star vehicle where she can go back to her trademark bawdy, cutting best.