In a genre that is increasingly becoming unforgiving, it is difficult to appease an informed audience of critics with a run-of-the-mill comedy. The formula is as follows: a seemingly perfect protagonist — usually a woman — disrupted by a change in their life, commonly the end of a relationship, a wacky self-actualising plan, a series of unrealistic events, a new love interest, resolve (think: Trainwreck, Identity Thief, every Katherine Heigl movie ever, etc.). What once elicited a laugh or two has become an unbearable benchmark in comedy film-making, lacking any work of original content. And as such, each new film mirrors the one that preceded it in what is in these times undoubtedly a financial hit, but a critical disaster.
In comes I Feel Pretty, the newest film starring actress-comedian Amy Schumer and co-directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein: Renee Bennett, an insecure and body-conscious millennial falls on her head and wakes up to the illusion that her looks have changed to what she’d always wanted them to be, giving her the confidence she’d needed to brave her world fearlessly.
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I’ve never quite been the fan of Schumer. For as long as I can remember, watching her movies felt taxing at best, but the actress herself is never the downfall of her work — the material is. And while Trainwreck may have salvaged that a little bit (though I’m still not a fan of the movie), it wasn’t until I saw I Feel Pretty that I was sold on the actress. It may not exactly the most original film you’ll watch, I Feel Pretty offers Schumer a lot of moments to shine, and she makes the best of them in a charming performance that I might argue is her best in a while. In a role that refreshingly relies on physical as well as smart comedy, Schumer’s Renee flourishes with infectious confidence that is faithful to the intentions of the film, though the end product doesn’t quite meet her the same.
The film starts with the illusion that Renee — following her accident — thinks she looks like a different person: a much more beautiful, confident, and strong one. However, as she navigates the world with her new-found sense of self, spreading mantras of self-love along the way, she continues to be ridiculed for her weight. And though the film ends with the go-to message of it’s-what’s-on-the-inside-that-matters, and Renee makes (emotional, perhaps psychological) peace with herself, she never quite resolves her problems with her physical self — in fact the film’s final scene is of Renee on a spinning machine ready to shed the few pounds she thinks are extra to her body.
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Therein lies the paradox governing I Feel Pretty: Renee accepts herself but not her body. As evidenced by the final scene, she still sees her body as a negative thing — something to be fixed, despite the change in self-perception. And if the point of the movie were to spread a message of body awareness, then the concluding scenes — though clearly well-intentioned — accomplish the antithesis. The tough questions thus have to be asked: when do we stop treating our bodies as the enemy? How do we move forward with weight-centered entertainment and pop culture more positively and inclusively? And when do we stop upholding irrational, rigid standards of beauty in a world so unforgiving to those who fail to achieve it?
The body — especially the female body — is politicised, whether we mean for it to be or not. And even in light comedies like I Feel Pretty, our duties towards accurate representation are not relieved, but amplified because of the masses these films usually draw. It remains important here to note the intention but impossible to escape the execution and script of the film. For what it’s worth, the comedy flick boasts a number of strong elements, multiple laughs throughout, and a delightful supporting cast highlighted by Michelle Williams’s surprisingly funny turn as a thin-voiced beauty icon and Rory Scovel’s refreshing portrayal of a genuinely charming love interest. But it should otherwise be taken with a grain of salt.