Well-Intentioned Pretty an Unfocused Comedic Misfire
New Yorker Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer) isn’t doing so well. She’s insecure about her looks. She has very little in the way of confidence. Other than spending time with her best friends Jane (Busy Philipps) and Vivian (Aidy Bryant) she doesn’t interact with others well. Renee has always dreamed of being more than who she is, of being wanted. Maybe it’s because she helps run the website for cosmetics giant Lily LeClaire and thus her views on beauty are slightly skewed, or maybe it’s because it’s just been hammered into her since elementary school that women are valued more for their looks than they are for their compassion, ability or heaven forbid their brain, but she really is in a rut. It would take a bona fide miracle for Renee to break out of these doldrums in order for her to make any substantive change in her life, and as magic doesn’t exist it isn’t like this is going to happen anytime soon.
Or is it? After hitting her head twice during a rather energetic spin class, Renee awakens believing the woman she suddenly sees in the mirror is the gorgeous supermodel she always wanted to be. Now overflowing in confidence and determination, she applies for a new job at Lily LeClaire that makes her the very first face newcomers to the company’s Fifth Avenue headquarters see as they get off the elevator. Additionally, she catches the eye of CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams). Trying to get out of the shadow of her grandmother Lily’s (Lauren Hutton) shadow, she feels Renee might be the perfect person to assist with their new diffusion line to be sold at stores like Target, her understanding of the common everyday shopper superior to that of all of those currently in the company’s upper management.
I Feel Pretty means well. It has a lot to say about gender equality and social concepts of beauty and intelligence, almost all of the ideas it has on that front the opening salvo in a vitally important discussion. The idea that Renee only believes others will see her value and her worth if she fits the beauty stereotype and suddenly overflows in self-belief when she thinks that transformation has magically taken place is an intriguing starting point for a romantic comedy with grander social commentary aspirations. That she’s the only one that sees herself this way? That others come to adore, value and fall in love with her seeing Renee for how she actually looks and not how she believes herself to appear? That only augments those themes even more.
But screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, the minds behind scripts for films like Never Been Kissed, The Vow and How to Be Single making their feature-length directorial debut, can’t seem to get beyond sitcom platitudes. Worse, they frequently undercut their own thematic aspirations, bringing up one idea only to make others feel insignificant to a point they become frustratingly inconsequential. They build up one character only to tear down others, show the universality of what it they are talking about only to make another woman’s experiences trivial when compared to what their main character is going through. It’s frustrating to an almost indescribable degree, the constant seesawing of narrative focus enough to give the casual viewer whiplash as they sit in their theatre seat trying to keep track of all that’s happening at any singular moment.
Which is too bad because there’s so much to adore, not the least of which is Schumer’s fearless, sincerely genuine performance that pulls heartstrings and provokes numerous outbursts of uncontrolled laughter in almost equal measure. The actress has marvelous chemistry with Rory Scovel, the actor portraying her potential romantic love interest who Renee all but throws herself at while standing in line at the dry cleaners. They have an easygoing and relaxed banter that’s utterly genuine, and had the movie been able to spend more time on them and their blossoming relationship it’s possible Kohn and Silverstein might have been able to take things into some sort of 21st century When Harry Met Sally… terrain that would have been downright lovely.
Even better is the stupendous performance from four-time Academy Award nominee Williams. In a year that’s already seen Jesse Plemons swipe Game Night out from underneath costars like Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, one that has experienced John Cena showing Oscar-worthy comedic chops in Blockers, Williams surpasses them all with mesmerizing, consistently hysterical ease. Her Avery, even in limited screen time, is a fully-formed human being with her own set of anxieties and hiccups, a talented woman who feels those around her see her success given to her by her grandmother and not earned via hard work and determination, that she is treated as nothing more than a fluffy airheaded Barbie Doll thanks to her high-pitched voice and delicately feminine features.
Williams takes this character and does spectacular things with her. This is as multifaceted a performance as any she has ever given, and that includes dynamic, magnetically captivating turns in films like A Week with Marilyn, Brokeback Mountain and Manchester by the Sea. Williams makes Avery a tragically compelling figure who battles society’s conventions and perceptions in her own way, allowing the intuitive and thoughtful CEO to see Renee in a way no one else at her company is seemingly initially capable of doing themselves. I found it impossible to take my eyes off of the actor anytime the film took the opportunity to shone the spotlight her direction, part of me feeling slightly disappointed anytime she wasn’t around.
All of which makes the moment with Kohn and Silverstein sideline Avery in a manner that goes against everything they’ve been talking about throughout the film all the more regrettable. I can’t really go into detail as the most egregious missteps all take place during the film’s climactic sequences but, not only is Avery put into a corner and seemingly forgotten, the same could be said for Jane and Vivian as well. As glorious as Renee’s moment might be, as substantive as the life lessons she’s learned unquestionably are, the fact the other women who are all essential parts of her journey aren’t given similar treatment is troublesome. I Feel Pretty might have a lot to say but that doesn’t mean it does so as clearly or as well as it wants to. While not without its merits and its laudable aspects, this socially conscious comedy is a strange, unfocused misfire I almost wish I could somehow forget.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)