By Kim Hughes
Models and the beauty industry serving them are snooty yet vacuous? The Devil Wears Prada. Sometimes what we think we lack is already within us; we just need to learn how to leverage it? The Wizard of Oz’s Cowardly Lion. A superficial fixation with looks ultimately leads to an appreciation of inner beauty? Shallow Hal. Ditching true friends for popular ones is a fast-track to emptiness? Lady Bird.
Shades of Mean Girls, Freaky Friday, and Big (directly referenced within the film) also surface which reinforces a key takeaway about I Feel Pretty: it’s actually a standard-issue coming-of-age tale rejigged for the adult set. Schumer, in real life as a comedian, is much funnier and more acerbic than anything presented here. Seeing her reduced to a composite caricature is disappointing but perhaps not so surprising coming from the team behind twee rom-coms Never Been Kissed and He's Just Not That Into You.
Schumer plays Renee, an average girl with an outsize sense of inadequacy despite having a solid job with a beauty company (albeit on a low rung), a pair of ace friends, and a snazzy apartment. In New York. A head injury during a mishap at SoulCycle, where Renee hopes to overhaul her body (nice touch) leaves our girl thinking she’s gorgeous, even though she looks exactly the same.
No matter. That instant confidence boost allows Renee to chat up the quiet cutie at the dry cleaners and boldly go after a higher-profile spot at her workplace where she encounters rich and entitled Avery (a glammed-up Michelle Williams in a rare comedic role, for better or worse). Cooing, babydoll-voiced Avery is tasked — hopelessly— with retrofitting her family’s department store cosmetics line for drug store consumption.
That, of course, is something our workaday Renee is uniquely qualified to spearhead. And does with great aplomb while dazzling dudes left and right with her super-sexy confidence despite not exactly being Victoria’s Secret material. Or, to riff on a great Schumer quip, having arms the size of what passes for legs among the lithe gazelles in the beauty world.
When another conk brings Renee back to her old self, she must reconcile with the world she thought she inherited, the one she thought she wanted, but didn’t really because at the end of the day, what matters is personality and friends who love you no matter what, silly goose. And besides, she was chunky the whole time and just didn’t know it.
Of course, the fact that Renee is so fundamentally shallow that even as an adult, she hungers remorselessly for physical beauty at the expense of everything else isn’t examined too closely, not even when Renee “returns” to her old self fully expecting her newfound boyfriend — also struggling with confidence issues — to promptly drop her. Because that’s the kind of guy you want in your life forever.
I Feel Pretty’s prevailing themes of empowerment and self-respect would doubtless register as quaint even to teens. Surely a sharper satire of our culture’s obsession with thinness and outward beauty is fair game for someone who famously quipped, “It's work having a vagina. You think it shows up like that to the event? It doesn't. Every night it's like getting it ready for its first Quinceañera.”
I Feel Pretty. Written and directed by Marc Silverstein and Abby Kohn. Starring Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Aidy Bryant, and Lauren Hutton. Opens wide April 20.