“I Feel Pretty”

            Here's a fool rushing in where a sane man would fear to tread:  the body, self-esteem, and identity issues of women.

            Here's an Amy Shumer movie which is absolutely fearless about addressing the flip side of the whole fashion/glamor/cosmetic/beauty industry:  it's a perfectionist ideal that no real person can attain.

            Renee (Schumer) works for a cosmetic company, but not even in the main building; instead, in the basement somewhere in Chinatown, on the phone and in front of a computer, with one co-worker, a male with about as much personality as a tent dress.  Renee has given up trying to have any amusing repartee with him.  At least she has two very good (female) friends, who are both actually as romantically challenged as she is.  They are even ready to try a “group date” site, where skittish adults can act like insecure teenagers and meet each other in groups as a “safe” precursor to actual dating.

            While in an exercise class filled with ladies who don't look like they need it, Renee hits her head, and when she awakens she is absolutely convinced that she has suddenly become gorgeous.  She just can't believe her good fortune.  She's so happy about suddenly being beautiful and slender that she just exudes self-confidence, so much so that she lands that receptionist job in the main building that she's always wanted.  She flirts with a man (Rory Scovel) while waiting in line at a dry cleaners, and he finds her energy so irresistible that they actually start dating.  And then she enters a bikini contest just because she knows she's a knockout.  Except that on the outside, she hasn't changed a bit.  What's changed is her attitude about herself.

            Yes, of course, it's a morality tale, and the moral is obvious:  accept who you are and be glad you're you.  Ms. Shumer has toned down the raunch humor and given us a heartfelt PG-13 offering so the teenage girls could take notes, but it's really about the adults in the room.  Yes, there are sight gags, and some plain silliness, but at its core this is an “empowerment” movie, where it's OK to make mistakes, too. Renee makes plenty of them, including treating her own friends shabbily, and being irresponsible when she's feeling sorry for herself.  Sometimes she blurts out what she's thinking without considering the possible consequence of hurting someone's feelings.  We're supposed to feel affection for the loveable mess that she is, and mostly, we do.  But despite all the gorgeous women parading on camera like a self-conscious style show, the one who really steals the show is Michelle Williams, as Avery LeClaire, the beautiful but insecure executive for the big cosmetic company.  Somehow she invokes loathing and empathy simultaneously, the love/hate tension thrumming through every scene she's in, which makes the rest of them just shadowy participants in some farcical minor satire.

            Yes, “I Feel Pretty” means well.  But the laugh out loud moments are few and far between.  This is seriously about body image.  And in case you miss the preaching, they neatly summarize it for you at the end.  It's just that most sermons don't end with resounding cheers from the congregation.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association