There’s nothing particularly wrong with I Feel Pretty. In some ways, it’s a nice throwback that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1980s with a magic spell that causes its protagonist to see the world in a whole new way. And yet there’s also something gratingly bland and flat about the movie as well. The entire premise rests on the protagonist magically becoming confident, and the message of the movie is “confidence, in moderation, is good.” It’s a sweet notion, and sometimes I Feel Pretty is able to get a lot of mileage out of it, especially in its romance subplot, but the story can’t help but wear thin in a movie this predictable and straightforward.
Renee Barrett (Amy Schumer) is a shy woman who believes all of her problems stem from her looks. She lacks the confidence to follow through on a better job or a healthy relationship because she’s not happy with her appearance. When she suffers a head injury at a SoulCycle class, she awakens to think her wish has been granted and she’s stunningly beautiful even though to everyone else she looks exactly the same. With her newfound confidence, she starts living the life she always wanted from dating sweet guy Ethan (Rory Scovel) to pursuing a job as receptionist at her cosmetics company where she admires the high-voiced chairwoman Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams).
From there the movie is just kind of a ticking clock as we expect the “spell” to wear off eventually, and Renee will probably learn an important lesson about confidence and beauty. But until we get there, we’ve got a lot of Schumer acting confident, and the audience is supposed to laugh at the gulf between how she looks in real life and how she thinks she looks. Sometimes it manages to work, but other times it feels a bit mean-spirited, like when she and Ethan are about to have sex for the first time. Even if Renee didn’t have a magical head injury, why would it be funny that she’s confident about having sex with a nice guy like Ethan who’s clearly into her? There are times where it seems like the script depends on the concept that Renee should be ashamed at all times, and that just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
However, I’ll fully admit that Renee comes from a world that I, as a man, cannot possibly understand. There are some stylish demands for men, but they never feel mandatory like they do for a woman. The first twenty minutes of the movie are devoted not to how men perceive women, but how women perceive women and themselves. It takes the film out of the realm of the male gaze and into a place where we can see the demands of society, and the film gets some potent satire out of these observations as well as some pathos like Renee just looking in a mirror and hating the person she sees. On that level, it’s something that we all—women and men—can relate to.
Unfortunately, I Feel Pretty never seems to go any further with its notions on beauty. Most problems, it assumes, can be solved by a delirious mix of confidence. To the story’s credit, Renee doesn’t become smarter or savvier once she suffers her injury; the aspects that were already inside of her are able to come out. The movie also recognizes that too much confidence can cause people to become callous or arrogant. And yet the movie never seems to go deep enough on its cultural observations or what it means to be beautiful. It has all the subtlety and depth of a greeting card, but it can kind of get away with it as long as its charming the audience.
That charm is most apparent in the scenes between Renee and Ethan. Schumer and Scovel have terrific chemistry, not just in bouncing off each other, but in showing genuine affection between the two characters. In these scenes, I Feel Pretty usually works the best since its satire always feels stunted in the career scenes where obviously Renee is doing well because she’s confident as opposed to find a real connection with another person as she does in the romance scenes.
There’s nothing particularly ugly about I Feel Pretty because its heart is in the right place. It’s a well-intentioned movie, and even if it’s not particularly creative or deep, it’s hard to begrudge the movie with a positive movie and a desire to make the audience laugh without reaching for the gross “fatty fall down” humor it could easily go to (even if Renee literally has to fall off her bike to sustain her injury). I Feel Pretty can be frustrating because it always feels like the film could go further with its comedy and its commentary, and it merely settles for being a nice movie.