Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer) is the website manager for Lily LeClaire Cosmetics in New York City. She doesn’t work in the gleaming skyscraper headquarters but in a small office under a Chinese takeout with her coworker Mason (Adrian Martinez). Renee is insecure about herself. She doesn’t feel pretty enough, skinny enough and smart enough for the rest of the world that surrounds her. She hears of a receptionist position opening up at the company headquarters where the CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams) runs the cosmetics giant. Renee considers applying but her lack of confidence makes her unsure. One day at spin class she falls off the bike and strikes her head. When she wakes up and looks in the mirror, Renee sees herself as a gorgeous and confident woman that can do anything she chooses. She applies for and gets the receptionist job despite the position normally being filled by young models. Renee impresses Avery with her confidence and soon the receptionist is offering ideas for a line of cosmetics that will be sold in general retail and drug stores. Renee also begins a relationship with Ethan (Rory Scovel), a man she meets at the dry cleaners and practically bullies into giving her his number. Renee’s friends Vivian and Jane (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps) notice the change in Renee and while they are happy for her success in her new job and her new relationship they aren’t crazy about how she is treating them like charity cases in need of sympathy for the way they date. Being the person with all the confidence in the world also comes with needing to know when you need to back off and let others find their own way. To put it another way: With great power comes great responsibility.
“I Feel Pretty” sells itself as a story of female empowerment but comes across more as power corrupts. Amy Schumer’s Renee is a sweet but insecure woman as the film starts but turns into something of a monster after an accident unlocks her confidence. Being the uber-alpha female in both the high-intensity environment of a New York City cosmetics firm and the much lower intensity friendship with long-time acquaintances requires an ability to be able to dial it back depending on the situation. Renee doesn’t possess that ability and comes across as mean and disrespectful of her friends. It is an unattractive attribute that goes against the ideal the film is trying to get across. It turns what could have been a decent comedy into something that is hard to watch at times and downright cruel at others. I don’t know what Schumer and the rest of the filmmakers intended to do with this story but what they have created works against an equal playing field.
When Renee wakes up from her minor head injury at the spin class she sees herself in the mirror as a beautiful and powerful woman. Every person that makes casual eye contact with her is, in her mind, checking her out. She announces that while it is understandable if people believe she will leave her receptionist job at the cosmetics firm for a modeling career that she has no plans to walk the runway as she sees her long term goal as staying at Lily LeClaire. She enters a swimsuit competition on the spur of the moment and understands when she doesn’t win because the “fix was in.” She practically bulldozes Ethan into exchanging phone numbers at the dry cleaners when he was only making idle conversation. Most of what Renee exhibits isn’t confidence, it’s delusion. While everyone else in the film seems to accept Renee’s new mindset as attractive and even inspiring, from the audience point of view Renee is mentally ill. It’s the kind of behavior that in the real world would get many people locked up for a psych evaluation. I’m not sure what point writers and directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein were trying to get to when coming up with this story buy my interpretation of what they have created is mostly the polar opposite of what the trailer for the film is selling.
While I believe the story is the weakest part of “I Feel Pretty” the performance of Michelle Williams as Avery LeClaire is probably the strongest. Williams is nearly unrecognizable as Avery with a wig of long, straight blond hair and a voice that is breathy and high-pitched. Avery is funny in her cluelessness. She doesn’t understand the struggles of middle class women and feels no need to learn which works against her as the company is preparing to introduce a budget-priced line of cosmetics that will be sold in nationwide chain department stores. Her grandmother, Lauren Hutton as Lily LeClaire, sees this shortcoming in her granddaughter and is not shy about letting Avery know. The struggle of making her grandmother happy while running a giant company that has a history of exclusivity is part of what opens the door for Renee to assist in the new line. Avery’s lack of confidence in herself and the way she speaks and moves through life is mined for humor as she confides in Renee. Williams performance is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise predictable romantic comedy.
“I Feel Pretty” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and some partial nudity. There is a brief sex scene that has no nudity and is largely played for mild laughs. There is also a suggestive dance done during a bikini contest. We see a naked Schumer in silhouette a couple of times. Foul language is mild and widely scattered.
“I Feel Pretty” has a vein of cruelty running through it. Sometimes it is directed at Schumer’s character by those who see her as not belonging at Lily LeClaire. Sometimes it comes from Schumer’s character aimed at her friends. Sometimes it’s a general feeling of some characters not belonging despite their desire to be there. It’s a difficult thing to pinpoint at times but it’s there. While writers and directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein may have intended to tell a story of empowerment despite how someone looks it still manages to come off as physical beauty wins out. It also isn’t as funny as it should have been.
“I Feel Pretty” gets three stars out of five.
This week the 800-pound gorilla in the room is “Avengers: Infinity War” and it also is the only new film in wide release.
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