The Amy Schumer brand of studio comedy rests on the notion that she is Everywoman — which means that when she approaches the front desk of a SoulCycle studio in the opening moments of I Feel Pretty, we know where this is going. The lobby is filled with thin, fit, glossy-haired women clad in Lululemon; she feels like everyone is staring at her because she’s none of those things.
The message of I Feel Pretty is (I can personally attest) an important one: Absolutely nobody is thinking about you as much as you are. So you should quit magnifying your own faults, quit berating yourself for not “being perfect,” and just chill out.
Great! Good message. Nice work, everyone. But a good message goes nowhere without a good movie, and unfortunately, the faults of I Feel Pretty are hard to ignore. There’s a potentially funny movie in here somewhere. But it lumbers along, wasting some of its greatest assets and, in the end, overstaying its welcome.
There are some outstanding performances in I Feel Pretty. Too bad they’re sidelined.
Complaints aside, the existence of I Feel Pretty (written and directed by rom-com vets Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein) is very nearly justified by one bright, shining beacon of hope: Michelle Williams’s performance as Avery LeClaire, heiress to and CEO of a cosmetics empire launched by her grandmother Lily LeClaire (Lauren Hutton).
Williams can do most anything she’s asked to do — her past five movies include one mega-cheesy circus musical, one prestige drama, one Cannes premiere, one quiet arthouse drama, and one weeper that landed her a fourth Oscar nomination — but as Avery she is, and I’m only half-joking here, a revelation. Dolled up (that’s the only way to describe it) within an inch of her life, with a voice pitched high and breathy, she gives a comic performance that’s just about worth the price of admission.
But there’s not nearly enough of her in this movie. Nor is there enough of Aidy Bryant, or of Busy Philipps, Williams’s real-life bff and former Dawson’s Creek co-star. The pair plays Vivian and Jane, best friends to Schumer’s Renee, but they’re remarkably one-dimensional and underused, especially with such talented comic actresses in those roles.
The trio is pretty ordinary women, with ordinary lives. But while Vivian and Jane are okay with that (that’s the aforementioned “one note” — they’re just normal and chill), Renee is obsessed with her failure to measure up to the women she sees in magazines and at SoulCycle. She has a cabinet full of name-brand cosmetics, stacks of magazines, and a queue full of YouTube hair tutorials, but when she looks in the mirror, what she sees looking back displeases her.
That obsession has turned into crippling insecurity, which is not helped by her job at Lily LeClaire’s, where she and Mason (Adrian Martinez), the company’s e-commerce department, are housed in a Chinatown basement space, far away from the beautiful people uptown at the brand’s headquarters. Renee has to go to headquarters sometimes, and she longs to work there, but knows she’d never make the cut.
Then one day, venturing into SoulCycle once more, Renee falls off of her bike and suffers what appears to be a concussion (though nobody thinks to send her to the doctor). And in a moment, everything is changed. Now, when she looks in the mirror, she sees herself as she’s always wanted: as a hot, fit young woman worthy of being hit on by every man and admired by every woman.
It’s a SoulCycle miracle!
I Feel Pretty’s one-note premise limits its comedic potential
This premise, as you might imagine, leads to a variety of comic situations, as Renee flaunts her newfound confidence and what she believes is her newfound beauty. But the thing is, nothing has changed. Renee looks exactly the same, and everyone around her knows it. Her friends are baffled that their formerly self-conscious friend has found abundant self-confidence, but they can’t exactly contradict her when she talks about herself as beautiful. So she struts and dances and commands attention, and people start to respond.
You can see where this is going. What hampered Renee in the past wasn’t really her looks. It was her crippling insecurity, her belief that she was only worthy of the job and the attention and the love she wanted if she looked “perfect.”
The movie tries to flesh out the idea that everyone, even the “beautiful,” feel insecure about something. Avery worries about her girlishly high voice and whether her grandmother thinks she’s doing a good job at work. A model Renee meets at SoulCycle (Emily Ratajkowski) is insecure about her intellect. Ethan, the man Renee starts dating (Rory Scovel) after coming on to him in a laundromat, worries that he’s not manly enough. And so on.
But a premise alone does not make for a good movie. The problem with I Feel Pretty — in an odd and probably unintentional parallel to the story itself — is that it focuses too much on Renee, whose obliviously confident schtick starts to wear thin pretty quickly. Over the movie’s nearly two-hour runtime, that becomes almost unbearable; by the end, it’s excruciating to watch. We’ve figured out what happened to Renee, but she hasn’t, and for some reason the film draws out that realization as slowly as possible.
A comedy with a thin premise can work — witness, for instance, the recent film Blockers, which doesn’t go anywhere unexpected with its premise (parents try to block their daughters from fulfilling their “sex pact” on prom night), but at least never feels like it’s dragging it out. It pulls that off by focusing on its ensemble cast, letting them all carry roughly equal weight in the plot. So just when you might be getting tired of one character, another can take the spotlight.
I Feel Pretty, though, makes Schumer carry the whole movie as Renee. Schumer is a consistently funny performer who’s responsible for many of the movie’s best line reads, and her performance, which has to take on a Freaky Friday-style quality — she acts like an entirely different person after her accident — is funny at first.
But there’s rich material and great performers strewn throughout the film that simply don’t get enough room to shine, and the movie suffers as a result. So even though it sometimes feels like the movie is nailing the tortured feeling of obsessing over your body, it just doesn’t have anywhere to go, or any way to develop that premise.
Too bad. I Feel Pretty has all the elements of a very funny comedy, one with a fresh take on a common issue and a lot of soul(cycle). But unlike Renee — who was always beautiful, all along — I Feel Pretty could have used more work to be ready for its moment in the spotlight.
I Feel Pretty opens in theaters on April 20.