Thursday, 10 May 2018

Movie Review: I Feel Pretty (2018)


The plot: Cosmetics worker Renee (Amy Schumer) has a lot of self-image issues and wishes that she was prettier. But after an accident at the gym results in a knock to the head, she suddenly not only sees herself as pretty but gains a sense of confidence that she never had before. As she sets out to show off her "new" looks and climb up the corporate ladder, her friends and co-workers start to wonder what exactly has happened to this woman.


Schumer as both the under-confident dreamer and the over-confident successor works out nicely, adding another layer to her body-positive repertoire that she wears proudly. I question just how proudly she should be wearing some of this character’s skin, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Rory Scovel as the love interest fits in very nicely, with his and Schumer’s scenes together feeling quite authentic and cute more times than not. Michelle Williams as Renee's boss, even with the self-consciously annoying voice (yeah, it’s supposed to be annoying but I question what good that intention ultimately does), checks out and adds another example of the film’s main point concerning self-image in a way that strengthens it rather than hinders it. Emily Ratajkowski seems to be absolutely typecast by this point as “the pretty one”, and while this isn’t a real exception to that, she manages to apply it to the film’s want to clear up misconceptions re: body-positivity in a way that makes her archetype work the best so far in her filmography. It’d be nice if she got a bit more adventurous in future, but at least some progress has been made. Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps do well as Renee’s best friends, Tom Hopper as a rather clearly-aborted attempt at a love triangle is just okay, and Lauren Hutton as his and Williams’ grandmother evens things out between them.

I don’t know what it is about the idea of personal transformation that makes this trope so common, but seriously, we’re doing the ‘head injury’ plot again? Really?! This got old decades ago for even the soap operas that saw fit to use it, so you can imagine how wonky it comes out here. In fact, considering this is the main conceit that starts the successive plot in earnest, I can’t help but think that this didn’t work as writer/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein planned. Basically, she wakes up from the head injury and, when looking at herself in the mirror, sees someone beautiful that she can be confident in looking like. But it isn’t her. Quite a few jokes to come after this scene rely on Renee literally being unable to recognize herself and expecting no-one else to either. Dissociation of this nature is a common companion with self-image issues, as it is a lot easier to think that you should just start fresh with a new visage than trying to improve on what you see as not able to be fixed. This is a rather pointed notion, and one that definitely rings true to reality in a fashion, but I think Kohn and Silverstein didn’t plan on just how pointed this idea is… or that, if we’re being honest, it isn’t the funniest idea in the world. It’s actually kind of unsettling, since this level of dissociation feels like some serious damage was done with said head injury. There’s a reason most films (most good films, at least) don’t use this tired cliché so much these days.

Of course, feeling unnerved isn’t the most frequent emotional response in the face of what this film presents. Eye-rolling irritation would be more accurate, and it ends up being incredibly counter-productive to the film’s goals. When Renee has her big mental transformation, she’s not just confident; she’s annoyingly confident. The majority of the film banks on the idea that watching people be aghast at someone this happy with themselves is funny, and for some it might be, but it certainly isn’t for me. There’s a reason why I make it a point to downplay whatever expertise I bring to the table with these reviews, and it’s not just because of my own crippling self-image problems. It’s also because I find something quite irritating about people who have this much of an ego about their own personality. Hell, the film itself ends up highlighting those problems for me, with how Renee’s renewed confidence ends up turning sour when she starts taking it for granted and neglecting what she had before. I have no issue with depictions of uber-confident characters in film, but when it’s being milked mainly for comedy and Amy Schumer is not the kind of comedian to make a puffed-out chest look attractive (speaking figuratively here), it falls flat. It’s a bad sign when your film intends to highlight the good of having better self-worth, and yet it makes the end product of that goal look this thematically unappealing.

This really sucks the fun out of the equation because, in all honesty, this kind of message is one that should be in circulation. I’d rather avoid having to compare my own reception to the film to anyone else’s, but since I genuinely think this film could do some good for its audience, I kind of have to. The backlash towards this film does involve some reasonable assertions, like how some of the humour makes the main intention a bit hypocritical or how the inner workings end up failing the more visible aspects, but mainly, I’ve been seeing way too many people claim that Amy Schumer shouldn’t be in this movie. Specifically, because she’s either too close to being conventionally attractive or flat-out is conventionally attractive, and thus has no reason to be complaining about her lot in life. This is such a wrong assumption, I’m actually more annoyed with it than anything this film has to offer on its own. Lack of self-image and the feeling that you, as you are right this instant, isn’t good enough is an inherently irrational idea, one of a series that people encounter when it comes to issues of mental health (and considering this film directly involves blunt force trauma to the head, I’d say that this qualifies). One of the single worst ways to handle someone else going through that thought pattern is saying that they aren’t even deserving of their anguish. That only makes them convinced that their issues aren’t worth anyone’s time, which means they get repressed, which means they are buried where they can do even more damage. This kind of ‘white people problems’ hand-waving is atrociously counter-productive and more than a little petty, all things considered.

That, in a nutshell, is why I think this film still has merit despite its rather fundamental issues: Because it speaks to a definite reality of the human condition that a shocking amount of people are willing to completely write off. What irony that a message about looking past one’s own superficial details would be shot down for equally superficial reasons. Where this film ends up hitting its highest points is when it features Renee, Avory and even Mallory talking about their own issues, their own forms of self-doubt that most wouldn’t pick up on from surface details. It doesn’t matter how attractive you think someone else is; that doesn’t directly mean that they don’t have their own worries about how they look, how they act or even how they think. Most of us just have to put on a brave face because society tends to commoditize physical beauty as something vital to a person’s existence, and those who don’t fit into it aren’t worthy of being part of it. To make things worse, society’s view of what counts as beautiful is exceedingly narrow, to the point where pressure is placed on people (especially women at pretty much all points in their life) to fit into that mould. This film asks a simple question in response to that: Why should I worry about living up to what someone else thinks is sexy, when I think I look pretty damn sexy already? Honestly, I’m rather inspired by this depiction of being more confident with one’s self-image, and I seriously hope that I’m not the only one.

All in all, even with this film’s rather dicey approach to comedy and the inclusion of that stupid friggin’ head injury trope, I still found a fair bit to like about this film. The acting brings out some real poignancy from the film’s main idea of improving one’s self by one’s own standards, even from otherwise-unremarkable actors like Emily Ratajkowski, the pacing is rather sluggish but the highlights definitely stand out well, and the writing may be a bit uneven in places but still makes a solid showing of how people, particularly women, should be comfortable in their own skin rather than trying to change themselves to suit everyone else’s preferences. As someone who rather recently has been working to ease my own self-image problems and how little worth I put in my appearance, I see some real merit in this, to the point where I actually recommend this even in spite of the problems I see here.

It ranks higher than A Better Tomorrow, as this doesn’t suffer from any form of adaptation sickness and is perfectly capable of standing on its own. Hell, considering Schumer’s last cinematic outing, I Feel Pretty is a rather welcome return to thematic form (maybe it’s time to let her write her own scripts again?). However, as far as delivering a visual message, this falls short of the equally-muddled but far more potent where it counts Winchester.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you on this one mate- I really admire the message they're trying to send, but think they could have gone about it a lot better. The head injury was, as you said, cliché and the after effects rather overdramatic in my opinion. But I really liked that scene toward the end where she discovers that all that changed was her perception of herself. There's something there I think we can all take away in terms of being comfortable in our skin- believe in yourself and know that you are better than the 'ideal', because you are you, and to me, that in itself is special.

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