I have to admit, my expectations are low for I Feel Pretty. I’ve seen the trailer, and it all looks a bit… silly. I’ve read reviews too, and they’ve not been kind. Amy Schumer, according to some critics, is just too conventionally pretty and relatively slim to convince as an ugly duckling. To these commentators I say just this: I think that’s the whole point.
Because Renée (Schumacher) isn’t supposed to be hideous. She’s just ordinary. She looks fine. But she doesn’t look the way she wants to; she doesn’t fit the image she sees held up as an ideal – an image she’s exposed to even more than most people, because she works for a cosmetics company. Her self-esteem is so low she can’t look people in the eye, whether she’s trying to order drinks in a bar or give her shoe size to a clerk. But a drunken trip to a wishing well followed by a bang to the head in an exercise class give Renée a new-found confidence: when she looks in the mirror, she sees a supermodel. To everybody else she looks just the same; her friends are dumb-founded when she talks about how much she’s changed. But her self-belief yields positive results: the new, bold version of Renée is go-getting and popular. The message, it seems, is a simple one: believe in yourself and others will follow suit.
It’s a sensible message, and Schumer is a strong performer: funny and engaging and easy to like. A shame, then, that the film is so muddled, that – after a strong opening third – it flounders, and seems to lose its way. Take Renée’s first date with Ethan (Rory Scovel), for example. He’s a great character, and their relationship is touching. But the bikini contest (which Renée enters on a whim) is a baffling mis-step, which seems to undermine any positive message about female body image and empowerment that the film lays claim to. How can this ‘baying-men-decide-who’s-the-hottest-girl’ competition fit with that narrative?
There are other issues, mostly of credibility. Why is Renée so needlessly cruel to her friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps)? It doesn’t seem in keeping with the character (I know she’s been transformed, but it doesn’t match any of her other behaviour, even after the change). And the saccharine ‘we’re all beautiful’ ending makes me want to puke. I mean, c’mon. All this for that? It’s depressingly trite.
Still, there are redeeming features. Michelle Williams shows once again what a chameleon she is; I hardly recognise her at first as squeaky-voiced company director, Avery LeClaire. A lot of clichés are successfully avoided: the fashion folk are not all vacuous and bitchy; the ‘beautiful’ women are as real as the ‘plainer’ ones. It’s eminently watchable. It’s just not very good.