Whilst this latest Amy Schumer vehicle is never going to be remembered as a comedy classic, or the damning critique of societal superficiality surrounding body image that perhaps the makers intended, it is thankfully much better than the trailer leads us to believe. It is not the first film that has had its box office potential sabotaged by its own marketing because, the reality is, that trailers and the like do have a significant influence on viewer choices. Typically, it is a great trailer that will convince people to see something that ultimately proves a major disappointment, but the opposite is the case in this instance. Who knows, maybe the bad marketing strategy was a statement in itself about needing to look beyond the surface to truly appreciate what lies beneath, although it seems unlikely there is anybody brave enough to knowingly approve such a ploy.
From the outset, the film requires a considerable suspension of disbelief from the audience in that it posits the notion that Schumer’s Renee Bennett is so repulsive that nobody would ever possibly consider dating her. The reality is, of course, that Renee is neither more nor less attractive than 90% of the world’s population. Presented as somebody who is seemingly destined for a life of loneliness, Renee is struggling with deep insecurity and low self-esteem. If the intent of first-time feature directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who also wrote the screenplay and have worked together as writers on the likes of Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not that Into You and The Vow, is to challenge the unrealistic expectations placed on young women that permeate contemporary culture, they are not entirely successful, which isn’t to say that the film doesn’t take a swipe at the beauty industry.
The narrative premise lends itself to delivering some strong messages about confidence, self-esteem and the vacuousness of those who define beauty by a very narrow standard. The problem is that when Renee suffers a nasty fall in an exercise class and wakes with a completely different perception of herself, her new-found confidence stems from the fact that she looks different. To the audience and the other characters, Renee looks exactly the same, but she now sees herself as something else entirely and this new (mis)perception of herself invokes all manner of personality changes that see Renee alienate herself from her friends whilst simultaneously landing her dream job. The problem with the way in which Renee’s (imaginary) transformation plays out is two-fold; firstly, it would send a much more positive message if Renee was to fall in love with her real self and, secondly, with her perception of being beautiful comes a shift in her attitude towards others that suggests being attractive automatically makes you a bitch, which seems a somewhat strange idea to propagate. Schumer’s unfiltered persona makes her the perfect casting choice and perhaps she needed to have greater input into the screenplay because, whilst there are some genuinely funny scenarios, there are equally as many that don’t work as well. Whilst there is a moment of catharsis at the end for Renee, the damage has been done by that stage.
Michelle Williams is great as Avery LeClaire and it is through her that the filmmakers do deliver a rebuke to the beauty industry. Having been handed control of the cosmetics company founded by her grandmother (Lauren Hutton), Avery’s efforts to develop a new range of products aimed at working class women is hamstrung by the fact that her life within the gilded cage of wealth and privilege has left her clueless about what such women might actually need. It is this part of the story that resonates most as a critique of the way in which the beauty industry is often contemptuous of those for whom cosmetics are as much about practicality and price than anything else. Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips feature as Renee’s two best friends, Emily Ratajkowski gets little to do as Mallory, the exact (type of) woman that Renee aspires to be and Rory Scovel is disarmingly charming as Renee’s boyfriend Ethan, while Tom Hopper features as Avery’s brother Grant, the object of Renee’s more superficial romantic aspirations. Full of good intentions but lacking somewhat in their execution, the sheer likeability of Schumer in the lead role makes I Feel Pretty much more watchable than the trailer suggests it will be.