The Hippo


Apr 24, 2019








Courtesy photo.

I Feel Pretty (PG-13)
Film reviews by Amy Diaz


A woman suffers from a head injury and then has a major personality change and maybe needs some medical assistance in I Feel Pretty.
Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer) manages the website of a cosmetics company she loves but she wishes she could work in the main office with the beautiful people, such as founder Lily LeClaire (Lauren Hutton) and her granddaughter and current head Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams), not the cramped basement with only sullen IT guy Mason (Adrian Martinez). Renee is so deeply insecure about her appearance, however, that she is too afraid to apply for the receptionist job at headquarters.
During a spin class, Renee falls and bangs her head really hard, hard enough that she loses consciousness. Most gyms would be all “ambulance” and “did you sign that liability waiver” but not here. When she comes to, Renee looks at herself in the mirror and magically sees what she has always wished she could see: a beautiful woman. She is shocked and delighted, and gleefully runs off to begin her new life as an undeniable stone-cold knockout. She tells her friends Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) not to worry, that inside this beautiful new shell she’s still Renee. They give her the wide eyes, smile and slow nod that one gives to a small child discussing an imaginary friend or an adult who has slid off the deep end. They don’t explain that she looks perfectly lovely — the same but lovely — but is talking like maybe she’s had too much coffee or is in the early stages of cult membership.
New Renee decides that she is exactly the kind of swan-like beauty who can get the receptionist job. And, when nice guy Ethan (Rory Scovel) talks to her at the dry cleaners, of course he’s hitting on her because that’s what guys do to hot women. She exchanges numbers with the baffled Ethan, who, when he meets her for a date, is charmed by the outgoing, completely secure Renee.
Confidence wins Renee this new relationship with Ethan and confidence and luck get her the receptionist job too — turns out she applies just as Lily LeClaire is trying to launch a new line specifically aimed at the Target shopper, whom Renee seems to have some insight into. Confidence and diligence at her job even catch the eye of Grant LeClaire (Tom Hopper), the tall hunky slice of blandness who is Avery’s not particularly talented-seeming brother.
Will Renee stay with Ethan or try to “trade up” to totally blah Grant? Will she alienate her buddies now that she is one of the “hot girls”? Will somebody please get this woman the medical assistance she so obviously requires?
I mean, no kidding, taken at face value, Renee, from her head injury to her deeply held and crippling belief that her worth as a person is based entirely on appearance, needs some help, a fact Avery points out in a line that’s kind of a joke at the end of the movie. But, OK, this movie doesn’t want us to take Renee at face value. So here’s the best possible reading of this movie: Renee is an exaggerated symbol of what society can do to women when it comes to their feelings about their appearance, the belief that beauty is something only They, the 20-year-old six-foot models in her spin class, have and she does not and is therefore not worthy of happiness and success. (Renee seems to exist entirely in a world of six-foot models, which may be the movie showing us what Renee sees, which if so is clever, since we in the audience can see people of various ages and body types all around her.)
What happens to Renee post-head-injury is an exaggerated version of what the movie seems to argue most women truly need to “be beautiful,” which is the belief that they just are, as they are right now, beautiful. Not, if you had a makeover or lost 30 pounds or whatever is on your list of things that need fixing about yourself. (And if you don’t have a list then I salute you, ma’am; you are made of sterner stuff than I.)  So this is the thought experiment of that — what if I just stopping worrying about X and Y and decided I was beautiful — played out to the extreme. 
So that’s all fine — who among us couldn’t use the reminder that we’re enough just being us, as the movie states at the end? I just wish it were a better, funnier movie giving us this message.
My frustration with this movie is that it isn’t nearly as smart as the message it’s delivering but it is smart enough to have moments that show its potential for better-ness. For example, this movie gets so close to saying something interesting about the beauty industry, something about how it can make women feel crappy about themselves but it also can be a means of self-care or an opportunity for actual artistic expression, especially for those like Renee who nerd out about this season’s colors versus last season’s colors. Part of what makes Renee good at her job is not just the loony confidence but a kind of fandom for the brand. This movie gets so close to making Renee’s interest in the beauty industry something more than just another example of her appearance obsession but don’t quite close the connection.
Likewise, there is something not-quite-there about the way Renee (who is supposed to be 36-ish like Schumer? Five years younger? 10 years younger?) relates to her appearance. It feels very stuck in a kind of high school student mindset, from the idea that there is one kind of beautiful to the sense that everybody is looking at you and your flaws. Again, if we are supposed to read her as an exaggeration of how many women feel on the inside, this kind of works but only kind of. I constantly found myself thinking that if the comedy had just been smarter, more nuanced, I would have enjoyed this movie more, particularly the moments of physical comedy when the joke seems to be about how different Schumer’s body is from the bodies of the more conventionally hot girls she so admires. 
I Feel Pretty is probably fine, a mostly average comedy with nice heartfelt moments, but disappointing, if you, like me, were pulling for it to be more. C+
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some partial nudity and language, according to the MPAA. Written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, I Feel Pretty is an hour and 50 minutes long and distributed by STX Entertainment. 

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