Crushed by self-doubt and low self-esteem, one night, inspired by the movie Big, Renee throws a coin into a fountain and wishes to be ‘pretty’. The next day, after falling off an exercise bike and hitting her head, she comes to and discovers that she is, indeed, beautiful. Thing is, the physical change she perceives only exists in her head.
The trouble with I Feel Pretty is, whichever way you approach it, chances are you won’t be doing so impartially. Before it had even been released, the controversy surrounding Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein’s movie meant it had garnered a certain notoriety that implicitly provokes reactions. Schumer detractors, body-positivity champions, misogynists – all were given the ammunition to derive whatever they wanted from it prior to actually seeing it, requiring any genuine response to actively have to wrestle with this bias. This review, in and of itself, cannot hope to avoid this pitfall. What it does hope to do, though, is to tune out any preconceived notions of what the film is and encourage you to focus on how it affects you, personally.
As a comedy movie, I Feel Pretty is, in all honesty, a little wobbly. Any work existing within this genre has to be judged, first and foremost, on its ability to generate laughs. If it’s funny, it can get away (largely) with murder. If it isn’t, its failures are held up to closer scrutiny. And it’s that, before anything else, that sets the movie back. Whatever Kohn and Silverstein’s intentions may have been, and regardless of however much Schumer might throw herself into it, the material just doesn’t have the pizazz to make a high concept like this fly. The jokes trundle along and hit the expected beats, making precious little of the pretty game cast the filmmakers assembled (including Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel, Busy Phillips and Aidy Bryant, to name a few). There’s no dynamism, no commitment and, crucially, a weak grasp of tone.
It’s this last thing that proves to be the film’s ultimate undoing. By explicitly citing Big as its reference point, I Feel Pretty lays out a roadmap for itself that promises a juicy moral core. And it does have a moral core – or, at least, it thinks it does. The rousing, climactic speech on body-positivity arrives, right on time, and calls for an end to media-dictated images of perfection. But the film mistakes one moment of moralising for a fully-realised message, and when this moment follows a runtime made up of fat-shaming jabs (which aren’t quite as bad as reports have led to believe, but which are still present), lazy characterisation and sudden, unearned narrative shifts, it can’t help but ring hollow.
It would be remiss not to point out, though, that there is a contingent for whom this film does work. The screening I attended was met with a steady stream of hearty laughter in all the right places, as well as an enthusiastic endorsement of its message by several vocal members. If I Feel Pretty elicits this from you, more power to it: the positives you could foreseeably glean from it far outweigh its sins as a piece of comedic cinema. All that’s important, as ever, is that you rebuke any reactionary impulses you might have beforehand and simply view it on its own terms.