When the trailer for I Feel Pretty came out the internet was, for the most part, suspicious and dismissive of its potential. The trailers focus is on how outrageous it is that Amy Schumer’s character, Renee, could think she was beautiful, so the reasons for the criticism are fairly obvious. But trailers are notorious for providing a lopsided view of a movie’s plot, and while I Feel Pretty isn’t exactly as the trailer makes it seem, it also misses the mark in many ways that trailer predicted.
Renee’s life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, she works in a satellite basement office of a high-end makeup company and despairs over ever finding love or being attractive. She goes out with her friends and complains of the cheap, shallow nature of dating sites and at home, she stares at the mirror in sadness at what she sees. One night while watching Big during a rainstorm, she runs out into the night and wishes on a fountain to become beautiful. At a spin class the next day she falls off a bike and hits her head waking up to find that she is now utterly gorgeous, at least in her own mind. It’s important to note, and a very wise choice on the movies part, that Amy Schumer is never replaced with a more conventionally attractive actress. We never get to see what she thinks is beautiful, only hear a vague description upon her initial discovery.
Filled with confidence after her supposed transformation, Renee decides to apply for the receptionist position at her company. Before she interviews, it is revealed to the audience that the company is looking to start a budget version of its brand, and they need someone who purchases such things to bring in fresh ideas. The head of the company Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams), finds Renee fascinating and decides to hire her to see if she can provide the much-needed insight into their new products. Renee also meets a shy, gentle man played by Rory Scovel who is enchanted with her bountiful willingness to put herself out there and do exciting things. With these pieces laid out, the film sets up a fairly predictable romantic comedy that also tries to discuss body positivity and self-confidence.
I Feel Pretty is trying very hard to hit a certain tone and unfortunately, it fails spectacularly. Too much of the humor is predicated on Renee thinking she’s beautiful and the rest of the world finding that utterly perplexing. By basing so many of the jokes on this it veers back and forth between asking the audience to laugh at the situation and to laugh at her. At the same time, it wants us to find the people who are looking down on her to be the ones in the wrong, even as it puts the viewer in that position. While it preaches the message of believing in oneself it treats the women who are deemed beautiful as interchangeable and generally judgmental while only paying lip service to the idea that anyone can have low self-esteem and difficult lives no matter what they look like. At its heart, the film has a good message but these choices often make it feel utterly hollow.
The sad thing is that I Feel Pretty has some genuinely funny and sweet moments that would be remarkable for the typical rom-com. Renee’s love interest is a unique guy who appreciates her for who she is or at least the confident person she has become after her head injury. There is genuine chemistry between the two of them and their relationship is one of the most positive parts of the story. Michelle Williams showcases her comedic skills playing the dreamy Avery LeClaire who is completely out of touch with regular people, but she also seems to recognize Renee’s talent and is appreciative of what she has to offer.
Women discovering their confidence isn’t a new plotline and some ridiculously great comedies have been made from that theme. I Feel Pretty tries very hard to emulate their success but its mixed tone and lackluster plot can’t support the complex story of body-positivity-lite and self-actualization it’s trying to include along with it. Unfortunately, the story of I Feel Pretty is too by-the-numbers to really tackle the issues its discussing, to get to the heart of matters that are so fraught with tension and difficulty a film needs to go outside the usual boundaries of the genre to succeed, and I Feel Pretty never manages to get there.