Photo: STX Entertainment

Amy Schumer plays yet another shallow New Yorker with self-esteem issues in I Feel Pretty, but it seems that with each starring role, the characters become more pitiful and the life lessons more corny. Here, the stand-up and TV sketch comedian is cast as Renee Bennett, a low-level employee at a world-famous luxury cosmetics brand who lives in a sitcom production designer’s idea of crummy digs (boho-chic floral wallpaper, about five different sofas) and suffers the kind of indignities traditionally associated with Cathy’s “Ack!”: split yoga pants, ineffectual Spanx, and so on. That is, until she gets knocked on the head and wakes up convinced that she’s been magically transformed into a drop-dead gorgeous model type with rock-hard abs in some kind of high-concept fairy-tale scenario in the vein of Big (specifically referenced) or 13 Going On 30. Suddenly, men start noticing her, and before long, she’s even caught the attention of her glamorous boss, Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams), who speaks in a ridiculously breathy high-pitched voice and dresses like a refugee from The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant. The joke being that nothing has changed except Renee’s confidence. One wishes that directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein had done more with it.

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Alas, the two first-timers—a rom-com writing duo better known for the likes of Never Been Kissed and He’s Just Not That Into You—can barely manage their own positive messaging. Having exhausted the cringe-comedy potential of the premise within a few scenes, they lay into the subplots: a burgeoning romance between Renee and a friendly bearded dude (a likable Rory Scovel) she met in line at the dry cleaner; her plans to go on a group date with her best buds (Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps); her crush on Avery’s tabloid-famous playboy brother (Tom Hopper); her run-ins with a friendly but intimidatingly comely acquaintance from her spin class (Emily Ratajkowski); and last but definitely not least, her employer’s attempt to launch a bargain cosmetics line at Target. For Avery, it’s a chance to finally impress her grandmother (Lauren Hutton), the company founder, and it all hinges on Renee’s insight in the mind of the kind of everywoman who actually shops at Target.

But in fact, the characters in I Feel Pretty can’t stop talking about Target. One expository board room meeting may hold the record for the most utterances of the word outside of a chase or surveillance scene. When Renee compliments a random woman on the street on her fetching dress, it of course turns out to have come from the racks of America’s second-largest discount retailer. But lest the reader think that having characters endlessly sing the praises of the bullseye corporation while disparaging dress boutiques and snooty department stores would leave little room for them to talk about anything else, don’t worry: The fitness chain SoulCycle gets at least half a dozen scenes. With this many ad breaks, the movie ticket should be free.

I Feel Pretty doesn’t give Schumer an upstaging on-screen foil à la Trainwreck’s Bill Hader or Snatched’s Goldie Hawn (Williams’ role is too one-note to count), but it also rarely plays to the strengths of her comic persona. This is her first PG-13 starring role; the raunch is all but gone, and with it, any semblance of social observation. The eerily laugh-free pre-head-trauma opening stretch requires Schumer to play mousy (not her strong suit), while the inevitable climactic speech tests the limits of her acting ability. Somewhere in there are a handful of good jokes about Renee’s delusional self-image (among other things, she’s convinced no one can recognize her) and a few tedious ones. But as if vague visual references to a Fassbinder film about a fashion designer and her masochistic assistant—shot, not coincidentally, by Michael Ballhaus, father of this film’s cinematographer, Florian Ballhaus—weren’t enough, there’s also the inexplicable appearance of a copy of Pär Lagerkvist’s novel The Dwarf, about a self-loathing Renaissance court freak who does the dirty work of a Machiavellian prince. Someone, in other words, wants us to know that they’re smarter than this material. Next time, they should just try making a better movie.

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