I Feel Pretty: Amy Schumer’s film has a troublesome relationship with beauty

Review: It lacks the hypocrisy of ‘Shallow Hal’ but the makers struggle with the central message

I Feel Pretty
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Director: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Cert: 12A
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel, Emily Ratajkowski, Naomi Campbell, Lauren Hutton
Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins

In the early stages of the latest fitful Amy Schumer vehicle, the film-makers try to deflect one line of negative criticism. Depressed in an online job at a beauty company, permanently unlucky in love, Renee Bennett (Schumer) spends as evening watching Penny Marshall's Big.

You know? The film about a person who is transformed into a different version of himself and then uses his early experiences to succeed in an industry that aims its products at the fellow he used to be. We get it.

Sometime later, Bennett biffs her head at the gym and becomes convinced that she is more “conventionally attractive” (stay with me as I entertain the film’s own logic) than she has hitherto believed. Her new confidence gets her into head office uptown. Her experiences as an “ordinary woman” (look, I didn’t write the thing) help her secure a position designing the company’s new mid-market cosmetics.

The familiarity of the story is the least of the problems. We can also forgive the quaint conceit that sees Renee – like Ronald Colman in the 1940s melodrama Random Harvest – neatly toggling from one mental state to the other each time she hits her head.


More troublesome is the film’s in-out relationship with conventional notions of beauty. One senses an attempt at cover when Renee wishes she knew what it was like to be “undeniably” pretty.

Got that? They're not saying that a woman who looks like Schumer isn't pretty. A distinction is being drawn between your super-models and everyone else on the planet. That just about gets them off the hook. You certainly couldn't accuse them of the same levels of hypocrisy that fired the Farrelly brothers' Shallow Hal.

At any rate, the film’s creaky, but commendable, message is (of course): it’s what’s inside that really matters. Renee’s new confidence affects her in erratic fashion. Elevated to a place behind the velvet rope thanks to her new job, she behaves like a jerk to her old, not “undeniably” pretty friends. At the same time, she seems happy to date an ordinary Joe who shares her old esteem issues. So, which is it?

Schumer remains handy with a punchline and quick with a quip. But it is, surprisingly, perennial gloom-bot Michelle Williams – hilarious as a fashion maven with a voice as wispy as most Michelle Williams characters – who comes closest to saving an indifferent project.

Isn’t it funny how Hollywood so often goes after the fashion business? It’s almost as if it enjoys poking the one industry that’s more trivial, vacuous and self-absorbed than itself. Just a thought.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist