I Feel Pretty (2018) by Marc Silverstein and Abby Kohn
Review by Jessica Carr
I don’t exactly remember when the insecurities began to set in. Growing up, I struggled with my weight among other parts of myself I didn’t like. The thing is I don’t remember ever feeling pretty. I was always comparing my body to what I felt like the “ideal” shape and size would be. After many sleepovers where I couldn't play dress-up because I couldn't fit in their clothes--I finally realized something. There is no “ideal” because the truth is that pretty comes in many different shapes and sizes. I Feel Pretty takes that notion and spans it into a 111-minute feature film. As a whole, the film wasn’t all that memorable. There are ways it relays its ideas sometimes in a subtle way and sometimes in a not-so-subtle way. I think the film only works if you are willing to re-evaluate your own personal beauty standards. For me, the experience was effective in making me wish I could go back and tell my younger self to truly appreciate how amazing she is.
The premise of I Feel Pretty is actually very simple. Renee (Amy Schumer), an insecure woman, hits her head during a soul-cycle accident and comes back to consciousness thinking she is more beautiful than before the accident. The audience sees Renee in the same body, but she perceives herself as becoming more attractive.
After watching the trailer for I Feel Pretty, I worried that Schumer would be the butt of every joke because she thinks she is attractive and others do not. But the jokes in the film work out because they usually revolve around Renee doing cringey things that women (or really anyone in the audience) wouldn’t normally do. For example, when Renee meets Ethan (Rory Scovel) at the dry cleaners, she makes small talk with him. She tells him to take a number and that they’ll call his number when they are ready to help him; she also tells him that they call the numbers out of order. He leans in and asks, “What’s your number?” She mutters to herself, “So this is how it happens” thinking that he just asked for her phone number. She boldly takes his phone and puts her number in while also saying she will try to pencil him in her schedule for a date. This guy looks super confused the entire time and it is actually very funny.
From there the film putters along as Renee discovers in the end that she can get more out of life if she is more confident. After the accident, she finds herself in a new relationship, in a job that she loves, and overall she feels better about her life. When she hits her head again, her perceived beauty fades along with the newfound confidence that came with it. In a highly criticized scene, Renee breaks down at Soul Cycle when she can’t recreate the accident. She sees Mallory (Emily Ratajkowski) crying about a break-up. Renee is confused about why a guy would break up with someone as hot as Mallory. Instead of being sympathetic, Renee just continuously tells Mallory how hot she is and how it doesn’t seem possible someone would break up with her. Mallory reveals her insecurity that guys always think she is stupid. I read in several reviews that people complained about this scene because they say that Renee is a shallow narcissistic person. What I took from the scene is that her character is very focused on her appearance and it makes the audience uncomfortable, but I think that’s the whole point. If you are constantly talking about what you look like, then it becomes a problem for the people around you.
Really, I think the film is smarter than people are giving it credit for. It isn’t just about promoting this message of, “It is what’s on the inside that counts.” I think it is also saying that universally, everyone suffers from some sort of self-esteem problem. It doesn’t matter if you are the sexiest person alive--you are probably going to dislike some aspect of yourself. Critics were really hating on the fact that a man co-wrote and co-directed this film about female beauty standards, but I’d argue that this film isn’t just for women. We see that with Ethan’s character: he is a guy that goes to Zumba classes to exercise because he doesn’t like the machismo atmosphere that comes with working out at the gym. At one point in the film, Renee even calls him out for acting feminine. She actually ends up being a good example for him because he admires how confident she is.
Another thing I really enjoyed about the film was the casting of Amy Schumer as Renee. I know a lot of people didn’t think her role in this would be believable because she is considered an attractive woman today. Years ago, seeing a female comedian with an average body type be the lead in a rom-com would’ve been weird uncharted territory. However, today it is something that is common and even expected. Body positivity is a movement that continues to gain more ground, so it is not okay to only cast thin woman in films nowadays. We expect beautiful women of every shape and size to be included in films. In this respect, it made sense for the writers to place Renee in an environment where she would feel inferior. Her job at a makeup company in Manhattan surrounded her with super model-esque women. They are all tall, thin, and wearing designer clothing. It’s no wonder she feels like she isn’t meeting the right standards because who the hell would be??? Schumer is known for her self-deprecating humor, so I think that this personality-type in the world of cosmetics made her character very believable.
Whether we like it or not, even though body positivity is gaining momentum, there are STILL beauty standards for women. In a piece for the New York Times, Amanda Hess argues that I Feel Pretty is based on the lie that looks don’t matter. She says that today beauty standards still exist, but it is taboo to admit they do. I think her piece has a lot of merit, but it is placing a lot of blame on a film that can’t undo decades of unrealistic beauty ideals. In the conclusion of the film, Renee sees before-and-after photos of herself, realizing she physically looked the same all along. It is definitely a messy ending and reveals its message in a not so subtle way, but I’m left with the impression that Renee realizes she needed to grow as a person. This doesn’t mean she is automatically going to feel beautiful every day, but she is going to work at it.
So ultimately, I appreciate what I Feel Pretty was trying to accomplish. It wasn’t always absolutely effective in what it was trying to say, but it was a good effort. Schumer does an amazing job and I would love to see her in more lead film roles. If there is anything I could take away from watching this, it’s to try to be the very best version of yourself. You are beautiful if you feel like you are beautiful. It is all about how you see yourself because you are your own PR person, after all. I know I’m still learning to appreciate who I see when I look in the mirror.