I Feel Pretty has its flaws, but it also has a very strong message about how the confidence that comes from truly loving yourself can not only open doors, but change your life. Amy Schumer may not have directed or even written this movie, but she’s the perfect lead to convey its values in a consistently funny way.
Schumer plays Renee Bennett, who has become the biggest obstacle to her own success. Her feelings of inadequacy and insecurity about herself and her body are a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, preventing her from truly getting what she wants out of her career, her relationships and her daily life. It certainly doesn’t help that she runs the website for a high-end cosmetics company in a small basement office that is a far cry from their glamorous headquarters on Fifth Avenue. It’s made her so focused on her perceived lack of beauty that she doesn’t even have the nerve to apply when a receptionist position at said headquarters opens up.
However, things change for Renee after she hits her head and is knocked unconscious at a cycling class. When she wakes up, she sees herself as a thin, conventionally beautiful woman, even though she looks exactly the same to the rest of the world. But her resulting confidence allows Renee to get that receptionist job, a new boyfriend, and a more fun, fulfilling life in general.
It’s a tricky balance being funny about the pressures women face without endorsing them, and “I Feel Pretty” doesn’t quite manage to pull it off. It deserves some credit for refusing to give us a fantasy, even while paying tribute to “Big,” the film that clearly inspired it. What “I Feel Pretty” does well is show us how those beauty standards can be detrimental to all of us, even to those who seem to achieve them.
It also doesn’t sugarcoat just how others would perceive Renee’s presence in situations and an industry that does place a premium on how a woman looks. Sure, Renee may be severely affected by them, but her friends Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps), who are also not conventionally beautiful, don’t seem to have any issues with loving themselves or her. They are also quick to hold Renee accountable when her new attitude and lifestyle inevitably begin to change her.
Renee, of course, also gets a new, ridiculously good-looking love interest, but her main one, Ethan (Rory Scovel) is more unconventional. He has much of the same self-esteem issues, as he works in the media and longs to be in front of the camera. But his insecurity over his lack of traditional good looks holds him back. Their love story is charmingly sweet, and very surprising in the way Renee helps Ethan be a more confident person while also thriving on his kindness. Renee doesn’t need to be validated by a man who we are told should be our ideal; the validation all comes from herself.
Perhaps if “I Feel Pretty” had edited some of its excess and fully committed to its main ideas, it could’ve come off better. It’s mentioned how women who seem to embody the ideal of the perfect life have their own issues, with Emily Ratajkowski’s model acting as a kind of stand-in, but her characterization comes too off clumsily. Michelle Williams is better able to elevate her cosmetics CEO Avery, whose high-pitched voice sometimes prevents her from being taken seriously, showing the kind of comedic chops that not only allow her to hold her own with Schumer, but almost steal the movie. Almost. Because what really makes “I Feel Pretty” so enjoyable is Amy Schumer. Her presence is the main reason the movie comes off so well, and the decision to focus on her personal journey to fulfillment is the smartest decision the filmmakers make.
Those filmmakers, writing team Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, are making their directing debut here after making a name for themselves with romcoms such as “Never Been Kissed,” “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “The Vow,” and “How to be Single.” Perhaps their approach may just be simply too reminiscent of the early 2000s movies that made their careers to truly take on something so complex. At least they have a capable cast that elevates this material into the kind of feel-good time that almost feels like a fresh approach.