Trump And Kim Arrive In Singapore For Unprecedented Summit Denuclearization
Some of the most dismal conversations I can remember from the early 1990s were those I had with other women—friends and acquaintances—about Naomi Wolf’s immensely popular feminist study The Beauty Myth. If the book spurred new ways of thinking about women’s identity in general, it was also taken up, at least by people I knew, as a kind of self-help book, a blanket explanation for all of their own insecurities and anxieties: They’d decided that the media, in general, and supermodels, in particular, were the direct cause of their own low self-esteem, and that knowledge had turned on a kind of passive helplessness in them.
If only I Feel Pretty were around back then. This modest, genial romantic comedy—the directorial debut of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (writers of movies like How to Be Single and Never Been Kissed) imagines what it would be like to be freed of the tyranny of self-criticism. Amy Schumer stars as Renee, a twentysomething New Yorker who is reasonably attractive or simply average looking, depending on your perspective. Renee works for a luxury cosmetics company (its president is played, in a superb little comic turn, by Michelle Williams). But her job isn’t glamorous; she’s a grunt—her desk is literally in a basement. And she longs for more, though she doesn’t know how to get it, or even if she actually deserves it.
Renee feels unloved and unseen, and her deepest wish—clearly a shallow one—is to be beautiful. Then she’s clonked on the head during a SoulCycle session. She passes out, and when she wakes up, she no longer feels ill-proportioned or slightly less than svelte. Instead, upon awakening she examines her unchanged limbs, her somewhat untoned tummy, and exclaims over how beautiful they are. She looks in the mirror and is perfectly delighted with her own, newly radiant face. It’s not a new face at all. It’s just that now, it simply looks…better. The old Renee would stare at her visage as if she were confronting a lumpy ball of pizza dough. Now, it’s as if something has clicked on inside, even if it’s only she, at first, who can see the light.
Now Renee faces the world ablaze with confidence. She still wears the same clothes, more or less—favoring schoolgirl mini-skirts that show off her shapely legs—but she looks, and obviously feels, more put-together. She lands a better job at her company and finds a cute boyfriend (Rory Scovel) who’s totally turned on by her aplomb. Sometimes it’s all a bit too much, both for those around Renee and for the movie at large: She advertises her own comeliness to her loyal friends (played, wonderfully, by Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips), who simply roll their eyes. She looks the same to them, and what’s more, she’s being sort of a pain in the ass. They tire of her quickly, though frankly, I didn’t.
The script, which Kohn and Silverstein wrote, is partly to blame for that. When they try to inject tension into the plot, they become a little confused about the movie’s mission: It’s not always clear if we’re supposed to think the “new” Renee is basically unbearable, or totally awesome. The movie has many more flaws than Renee does: It isn’t as light on its feet as it should be, and Kohn and Silverstein frame some of the gags too broadly, particularly a boardwalk bikini-contest scene that’s dragged down by some crude gross-outs.
But if their vision is a little shaky, Schumer’s isn’t. She gives a real performance here: When the old Renee stares into that mirror, her face—the dispirited eyes, the mildly downturned mouth—is a map of intense self-judgment. The new Renee, worrying less about what she lacks and grooving more on what she’s got, is incandescent—no wonder she gets more done. Schumer’s 2015 comedy Trainwreck (which she wrote, with Judd Apatow directing) was framed as a brassy comedy about female bad behavior, though it ultimately focused more on the idea that settling down with that one nice guy is infinitely preferable to having lots of sex for fun. It was a conventional movie disguised as a progressive one.
There’s an aura of conventionality around I Feel Pretty, too, but it’s not nearly as oppressive. And Schumer is great fun to watch. Renee is so high on her own supply that she sometimes seems a little nutty. But that sense of self-worth in overdrive also kicks her life into gear. We all look in the mirror, and we all listen to it—we can’t help it. But when Renee looks, she hears it singing. The rebuke she used to hear, it turns out, was all in her head.