Tuesday, September 4, 2018

I Feel Pretty: A Review


Apart from Trainwreck, Amy Schumer has not had a good run either on film or television.  Her follow-up to that film, Snatched, was critically reviled and commercially a failure.  With I Feel Pretty, Schumer and Company may have had pretty good intentions about self-acceptance, but they were off the mark just a touch.

Renee Bennett (Schumer) is an average woman who works on the website of  Lily LeClaire Cosmetics, far away from the actual headquarters.  She has a few friends but has concerns about her looks and figure, constantly comparing herself to more attractive women.

Her insecurities lead her to take a spinning class, but the first time her weight causes the bicycle to break and the second time, her over-enthusiasm causes her to fall off and hit her head.  When she comes to, she looks in the mirror and sees herself as the most beautiful woman in the world, not the frumpy Renee she 'was'.

With full confidence that she is now drop-dead gorgeous and a completely different-looking woman despite actually looking the same, she decides to take on the receptionist's job at Lily LeClaire, the metaphorical 'face' of the beauty company.  At first, the 'beautiful people' seem taken aback that the frumpy Renee is there, but they are soon taken in by her exuberance.

Among those taken in are Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams) and her brother Grant (Tom Hopper).  Avery is attempting to make a more 'working-class' line for LeClaire, but with her thin, soft voice and patrician manner she is having difficulty with the line.  Renee, who 'used' to be schlubby but now isn't, happily helps Avery.

Image result for i feel prettyAs Renee is now 'gorgeous', she finds it easy to pick men up.  The man she now picks up is Ethan (Rory Scovel), a technical assistant at CNN who wants to move up but who similarly has confidence issues.  Despite being a bit startled by Renee's behavior, such as impulsively entering a bikini contest and making a spectacle of herself, Ethan still finds himself attracted to her.

Soon a romance develops between them, but Grant soon finds himself attracted to Renee.  She is in Boston to help Avery do a presentation for the new cosmetics line, and all the well since Renee's 'hotness' has alienated her old friends.  Renee herself struggles with temptation when Grant expresses an interest in her.  This freaks her out enough to try and get away, ending with her accidentally hitting her head in the shower.

To her surprise, this bump reveals to Renee that 'the magic' has gone and she is now back to her old self despite again never having actually changed her physical appearance.  She soon starts avoiding Ethan, convinced he was attracted to her only when she was 'beautiful' and she slips into a depression.

It isn't until she forces herself to attend the working-class cosmetics launch that she realizes that her external appearance never changed.  With the truth all out, she reconciles with her old friends and Avery, and more importantly, with Ethan.

Image result for i feel pretty michelle williamsWriter/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein have a genuinely good plot rattling around I Feel Pretty.  It is unfortunate that the execution was a bit bumbled.

For example, I Feel Pretty, with the story centering around a beauty cosmetics company complete with a 'hot' boss and frumpy receptionist comes across as a white version of Ugly Betty. Moreover, the 'bumping of the head' to cause the delusion and reverse it are also cheap, trite and very unoriginal.

It's strange that I Feel Pretty had a shout-out to Big when it could have learned something from it.  For example, rather than a bump on the head, why couldn't she have gone to a hypnotist, even as part of a comedy club act that convinced Renee she was beautiful?  Also, I thought it might have been fun to 'see' what exactly Renee saw when she looked at her reflection.

It might have even allowed for a 'cameo' by someone to suggest that Renee genuinely saw someone else.  Maybe Emma Stone, Charlize Theron, Gal Gadot or Aishwarya Rai could be the ones Renee saw reflected back at her.  Perhaps too that is not the most original idea, but at least it would make it more rational than Renee simply looking at herself and seeing 'someone' else.

Again, I get that the message is that she hasn't changed and that beauty is from within, but her constant protests that she is stunningly beautiful when everyone around her, even Ethan, don't hold to that idea makes her look rather bonkers.

Sometimes, one questions not just Renee's sanity, but others.  Ethan at times looked genuinely frightened of Renee, unclear whether he was dealing with someone who was insane.  All those elements pushed the narrative down a bit.

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However, there are some very good positives in I Feel Pretty.  At the top are two performances that showcase the range of one, the rising status of the other.  Michelle Williams is fast becoming my favorite actress, and here she reveals a rarely-seen side: that of a true comedic talent.  She's stayed mostly in heavy dramas like Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, and Manchester By the Sea, but in I Feel Pretty we see what a delightful comedienne she is.  Williams adopts a thin voice and a somewhat spacey manner, but she balances the rather oddball nature of Avery with a genuine sense of being.  It's a brilliant performance and a showcase to someone who should do more comedy.

Rory Scovel also does wonders with Ethan, his hesitancy and confusion balancing out into a remarkably believable character whom you can see genuinely falling for the sometimes bonkers Renee.  I have not seen or heard of Scovel until now, but he is quite delightful in this counterpoint to Schumer.  Out of all the characters, Ethan is my favorite, and not just because he reminds me of me, down to having some of the same experiences, which I won't go into and I'll leave it at that.

As for Schumer, she did well though not totally convincing as the newly empowered Renee, seeming more upbeat and cheerful than minx.

Adrian Martinez as Mason the tech/Renee's coworker was a scene stealer in his small role, and while Lauren Hutton seemed wasted, it is always good to see her again.  The only thing about Hopper than I can say is that he is very tall and muscular, and while that aspect of I Feel Pretty was underwritten, he did well.

As a side note, I think there was a good attempt to have Grant and Ethan engage in a little measuring contest during a dinner, which sadly wasn't pursued as well as it could have been.

There is a good message in I Feel Pretty, but the delivery needs work. Apart from two standout performances, I Feel Pretty feels pretty rote.

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