Amy Schumer, one of Hollywood’s most controversial figures, has made the most problematic good movie in weeks. The film is endearing in the way children can be, earnest in a sweet manner but too dull to think through what something will actually mean.
Schumer plays Renee Bennett, an attractive white woman with a steady job, a nice flat in New York City, close friends, nice clothes and enough money for spin class. Like most people, Renee is unsatisfied with her body image, and complains constantly about her looks and her weight.
The movie takes everything a few steps further, mistreating Renee at every step, as if she didn’t just look like a normal person. In a world where Kevin James makes movies that don’t mention his appearance and that feature him hooking up with beautiful younger women, it’s uncomfortable that Schumer’s latest picture drills home to the audience that she’s “ugly.”
Renee makes a wish while watching Tom Hanks’ “Big” one night, running out to a potentially magical fountain and asking to be beautiful. The next day, she hits her head very hard and has her dream come true. Suddenly, she’s the most beautiful person in the world — but she’s the only one who sees it. The film plays out like a parody of one of the many dream-comes-true Disney Channel Original Movies that have been released in the past 20 years. It has the feeling of harmless fun, with a major bubble resting under the surface, ready to pop at any secondSchumer’s supporting cast meshes well in the film, but no one shines quite as bright as the laugh-out-loud funny Michelle Williams, who delivers a powerhouse of a comedic performance. She plays a high-voiced pixie of a person, an obscenely rich woman who owns a massive fashion brand and is overly self-critical.
When “I Feel Pretty” plays along with its main character, the movie is kind of enjoyable. Renee, with her newfound confidence, takes on the world with renewed vigor, talking to strangers, applying to risky dream jobs — she isn’t afraid to be herself. The script, by co-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, treats her confidence as its own kind of superpower, opening up the pathways that Renee believes were previously inaccessible because of her looks. It’s certainly reductive of the way our society treats women, but this is not a movie seeking to engage with the nuances of the culture — it’s a Disney movie without the magic.
Eventually, Renee’s confidence gets her into trouble and the “spell” is undone, causing her to discover herself. It’s here that the movie really starts to fall apart, contradicting itself at every turn: It paints her confidence as a superpower, except for when she treats people as lesser than her; it is earnest and encouraging, except when it asks the audience to laugh at Schumer. It’s not until the very end, when she gives a prolonged, if on-the-nose, speech that perfectly encapsulates the themes that Kohn and Silverstein are trying to convey, that the movie steers into the saccharine, creating something similar to the last five minutes of a very special episode of “That’s So Raven.”
Amy Schumer is both hated by conservatives for her liberal views and despised by liberals for being a problematic white feminist — she can’t please anyone. “I Feel Pretty” will do nothing to change that, pushing her views hard and consistently stumbling along the way. But it’s in those stumbles that the movie finally makes Schumer feel like a genuine person, not some manufactured idea of a millennial comedian, and that counts for something.