Cinema Dispatch: I Feel Pretty

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I Feel Pretty and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Entertainment

Directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

You know, I should really watch Trainwreck at some point.  I mean I have it RIGHT here on blu ray, and yet I’ve never found the time to pop it in and see what it’s all about which would HOPEFULLY give me a bit of perspective on Amy Schumer because after seeing precisely one of her movies, I’m not sure if I get the appeal.   Now that’s not to say I’ve written her off yet, especially when the premise of THIS film seems rather intriguing if they can pull it off, but my rather limited track record with her has left me feeling a bit cold whenever she comes up.  Still, this does seem like a film that can play to her strengths while also having a positive message about self-esteem and body positivity, so let’s hope this is the one where I finally get it and become a fan!  Does this manage to live up to its rather clever premise without falling into the obvious pitfalls it sets up for itself, or will this fall flat on its face as it trips over its good intentions and lands smack dab into offensiveness?  Let’s find out!

Renee (Amy Schumer) is a typical middle of the road white woman in the big city.  She’s got a decent job, good friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips), a nice place, but she’s still unhappy with her life and is constantly searching for ways to fill that gnawing sense of emptiness that keeps us all up at night.  Her solution?  LOOK PRETTY!  She spends all her time trying to learn beauty tips, experimenting with her makeup, and working out to try and lose weight which I’d say are doing their job just fine, but she’s bought into the unobtainable beauty standards that society has pushed on us, and so no matter how good she looks she’s still not happy about it.  If only this were more like THE MOVIES where you could wish for a better life and POOF!  It just happened!  Well… it kind of does here!  During one of her spin classes, she falls off the bike and smacks here head which I guess isn’t the IDEAL way of initiation a body switch, but there wasn’t a Zoltar machine nearby so they had to go with plan B.  When Renee wakes up, she looks exactly the same, but every time she looks in a mirror she sees PERFECTION!  The body she’s ALWAYS wanted is staring right back at her and she couldn’t be happier!  She’s so happy in fact that she applies for the job she always wanted as a receptionist at a cosmetics company run by Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams) and gets the job due to just how confident and pleasant she is in the interview despite not having the body type they usually hire for that position.  Things get even better from there as she starts helping Avery with her upcoming “regular folks” line of product (Renee being a FORMER normal person gives her insight into what average consumers are looking for in their makeup products) and she even meets a guy (Rory Scovel) who loves her outgoing and fearless personality!  Still, how long will she be able to keep up this momentum before society inexorably tries to knock her down a peg for not being the perfect body type?  Will she ever find out the truth and learn to accept herself for who she is rather than the fantasy she’s built up in her mind?  Who’s to say that her beauty wasn’t on the inside the whole time!?  And on the outside too!  She looks pretty great as far as I can tell!

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“I AM sexy, and I know it!”

I DO think this movie is REALLY funny and that it genuinely has its heart in the right place regarding body positivity, unrealistic standards of beauty, and even the tropes of the body switch genre, but its scope feels really narrow which sadly undercuts its overall message and even makes some aspects of this a little uncomfortable.  Not necessarily BAD or MEAN SPIRITED, rather it seems to only be aware of the issue it’s raising to an underwhelming extent (basically as far as it affects cis het white women with decent jobs) and isn’t interesting in expanding its worldview beyond that which may be fine for yet another Amy Schumer comedy, but the film clearly has larger aspirations that that which makes it all the more obvious when they don’t quite reach those goals.  It’s basically the All About That Bass of movies, and yes there is indeed a Meghan Trainor song on the soundtrack.  It’s light, fun, and rather well made, and you can certainly find a bit of affirmation from its body positive message, but it’s ultimately a much shallower experience than what it purports to be which is going to turn several people off from it even if I don’t think the problems ultimately ruin the sincere attempt.

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“Them skinny bitches, am I right!?”     “Uh… sure…”

The movie manages to at least start off very strong which goes a long way towards selling the premise and just how genuine their intentions are.  Amy Schumer is often boisterous and plays characters with big personalities, but in the first part of this movie she does an amazing job of dialing that all back to portray the flight that many of us live with who are unhappy with our bodies.  Sure, being a guy has its privileges as I’m not even expected to wear makeup, let alone live under the oppressive thumb of the Patriarchy (even though Toxic Masculinity hurts men, women still suffer the brunt of its injustices), but I’ve NEVER been particularly happy with the way I look, and Amy Schumer captures that sadness perfectly.  Trying to navigate social situations with all the grace of a bull in a china shop, feeling self-conscious about taking even the most basic of steps towards self-improvement (especially when you have to do so in public), the dead eyed stare of defeated self-loathing whenever you look in a mirror, it was ALL there and made me squirm quite a bit in the movie.  Now does this movie feel a bit OVERLY mean spirited in that regards?  To an extent, but it’s always a balancing act with this kind of story where you have to find the right mix between institutionalized myopic beauty standards which gives your film an accurate (and righteous) target, as well as internal struggles of self-worth and even body dysmorphia which makes for a more compelling character narrative.  They take steps to show that Renee’s issues are more than skin deep while also showing that the beauty industry continually feeds on these issues to sell her more and more “solutions” which is all GREAT stuff, but feels a little… simplistic, I guess.  It could be that she’s INTENTIONALLY putting herself in places that set her up for ridicule, but there’s not enough to show that the world ISN’T just a succession of mean ladies and gross dudes who all subscribe to unrealistic standards of beauty.  If this ONE spin class makes her feel unwelcome and is disrespectful to her body type, there are plenty of other places she can go to that won’t treat her that way, yet the movie never even approaches that as a possibility.

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You’d think an employee would at least TRY not to look so baffled at her… being happy about herself.

Still, even if there are a few missteps here and there, I think it’s a great setup for what this movie’s story eventually becomes which is essentially a body switch movie without there being an actual body switch.  It’s actually kind of brilliant and I don’t recall a lot of movies doing something like this other than MAYBE amnesia films (they’re suddenly a better person now that they don’t remember what a jerk they were!) and it allows for Am y Schumer to REALLY show off some phenomenal acting chops.  You can see how she carries herself differently when she thinks she’s “beautiful” which, in and of itself, makes her seem like a new person.  Let this be a lesson to all you kids out there!  CONFIDENCE!  CONFIDENCE!  CONFIDENCE!  Your attitude genuinely affects the way you look and this movie handles that idea with aplomb.  It’s fun to watch Amy Schumer be THIS joyous in everything she does and to do so without fear and without reservation which is a rather positive image for this film to have.  Now it’s not without its own set of pitfalls which I think the movie does a decent job of addressing, but MAYBE could have gone a bit deeper in.  Renee is ONLY acting like this because she got a “quick fix” as it were and she’s still operating on the assumption that beauty is the most important path to success which EVENTUALLY bites her in the ass, but her complete and total change in personality as well as the way she expects to be treated by people feels a bit much for just thinking you’re inside of a hotter body.  Someone with the kind of issues we saw her have in the first part of this isn’t likely to be THIS confident even if they all of a sudden have the perfect look, though an interesting angle to look at this (that the film doesn’t really go down) is if she even sees this new person as herself or if she can truly dissociate this new identity from who she was before.  She never really accepted herself for who she was (her ACTUAL body), so the moments where she muses about not feeling the need for other people to validate her should PROBABLY ring a bit hollower than the film seems to expect them to.  Beyond all that though, for which there are people MUCH more qualified than myself to speak on, this is where you’re gonna get your big laughs and memorable moments.  Amy Schumer’s fearlessness leads to some great set pieces, and it’s all helped along by a strong supporting cast that includes Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps as her best friends, Michelle Williams as the head of the company she works for, and Dave Attell who… wait, Dave Attell is in this!?  Wow.  I have not seen that guy in ages!  Heck, if you had asked me before the movie started, I would have been about twenty percent sure he was dead!

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This Insomniac reboot doesn’t look half bad!

For the most part, this movie is an enjoyable ride even if it has a few bumps in the road regarding its messaging, framing, and sense of humor.  Where the thing kind of falls apart though is at the end where scenes start to drag a bit and we end on a rather uninspiring epithet to close out on.  The GIRL POWERTM message at the end is just too shallow (much like Renee’s attitude through most of the movie) to actually mean anything, and the film loses a lot of its luster in these final moments.  To make matters worse, the whole movie revolves around her job at a cosmetics company and her big speech at the end is at a presentation for said cosmetic company; an industry that itself has jumped on the body positivity bandwagon in recent years to make shallow and condescending advertisement campaigns about being the REAL YOU by buying our beauty products; not that cosmetics are in and of themselves an issue, but the industry built around them can be pretty horrendous and it feels out of place to have it so prominently in this movie without condemning them all that much.  Heck, Michelle Williams is one of the more likable characters in this movie, yet her condescending attitude towards “the regular folks” is never really addressed within the movie.  It all just feels like a big letdown to what I though was a moderately successful movie (more so on its humor and cast than on its message) and leaves things on an unsatisfying note.  Other than that, the movie also has some editing problems as scenes will just kind of end without much fanfare, and there are characters that get pushed to the background way to frequently like her best friends and ESPECIALLY Tom Hopper as Michelle William’s super-hot brother who feels like a character there to make a point that never really gets made.

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“Why hello there, pretty lady!”     “OH MY GOSH!  ARE YOU ED SKREIN!?”     “What?  No, I’m-“     “Mr. Skrein!  You were SO good in that Transporter reboot!”     “Um… thank you?”

It may be far from perfect but I do think this film deserves the benefit of the doubt and that you should see it for yourself.  Now I don’t think everyone is going to like it and there will be more than a few well-reasoned arguments about the film’s message and how it presents it, but the ambitions here seem genuine which is more than you can say about a lot of other films in the genre.  Still, I think the overall package is not as strong as something like Blockers which has a much clearer and well thought out message for its audience (on top of being absolutely hilarious) but this one gets a few points for being that much more ambition and trying something that could be seriously risky.  If it’s deemed to be a failed attempt at being a body positive movie, well at least it shows that Amy Schumer is willing to go out there and try something like this which gives me a whole lot of respect for her, though I hope that her next effort is just as ambitious but clearly a more polished product.  I think it’s worth checking out at the theaters, at least at a matinee price, though only if you’ve already seen Blockers.  Blockers first, then this!

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