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Dustin Putman

I Feel Pretty  (2018)
3 Stars
Directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein.
Cast: Amy Schumer, Rory Scovel, Michelle Williams, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps, Emily Ratajkowski, Tom Hopper, Lauren Hutton, Naomi Campbell, Sasheer Zamata, Adrian Martinez, Dave Attell.
2018 – 110 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, some partial nudity, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, April 17, 2018.
Sweet without being syrupy and pleasantly funny without trying too hard, "I Feel Pretty" is a slice-of-life with a valid, necessary message to impart. The confident directorial debuts of screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (2016's "How to Be Single"), the film takes a wish-fulfillment fantasy—think "Big" (which this film rather wonderfully references) crossed with an inverted "Shallow Hal"—and wisely sidesteps all of the potentially hypocritical traps and misguided double standards into which it easily could have fallen. This is another winning star vehicle for comedian Amy Schumer (2017's "Snatched"), one that plays to her uninhibited willingness to do anything for a laugh while also giving her a multi-faceted, empathetically observed character who is more reeled-in, down-to-earth and altogether vulnerable.

Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer) is an independent career woman filled with insecurities. Constantly feeling like she never measures up to the thinner, more attractive, more confident women around her, she surrounds herself with a couple of tight-knit friends, Jane (Busy Philipps) and Vivian (Aidy Bryant), while working the decidedly unglamorous online division of chic cosmetics company Lily LeClaire out of a Chinatown basement. In a moment of frustration, she tosses a coin in a fountain and wishes she was beautiful—a desire which comes true the very next day when she bumps her head during a Soul Cycle class and wakes to see a reflection of a supermodel looking back at her in the mirror.

To everyone else, she is the same Renee she has always been. To Renee, she is all but unrecognizable, her newfound beauty gifting her with newfound confidence. She nabs the receptionist position at Lily LeClaire's 5th Avenue headquarters. She charms squeaky-voiced CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams) with fresh ideas on how to market the company's products to average working-class women. She pursues nice-guy Ethan (Rory Scovel) after meeting him in line at a drycleaner, the two of them hitting it off and he absolutely taken with her fearlessness. With her personal successes and tenacity, however, comes a more superficial side, one that begins to alienate her from Jane and Viv and the kind, generous, fun-loving person she's always been.

"I Feel Pretty" is not about a physical makeover, but about the kind of transformation that comes from within. At the start, Renee's everyday life as a well-adjusted woman who nonetheless always seems to be racing to catch up to those around her is affectingly portrayed (the use of The The's "This Is the Day" to underscore some of these early scenes is a nice touch). That the very people Renee has always strived to be like—those who appear to be effortlessly pretty and fit, attracting others everywhere they go—could possibly have the exact same body-image and relationship woes initially goes over her head. When her psychological metamorphosis occurs, the humor comes from her unapologetic audacity (whether it be simply sashaying through a lobby or cheerfully entering a bikini contest) and the natural reactions of her friends who cannot quite believe her seismic shift in self-assurance. It is key to point out the film does not laugh at Renee, and neither do the other characters. This isn't a shallow story about attaining a false ideal of physical beauty, but about the importance in believing in and accepting oneself. It's a lesson that not only rings universally true, but genuinely finds a way to inspire the viewer without coming off as maudlin or preachy.

Making good on the promise of her big-screen breakthrough, 2015's "Trainwreck" (for which she penned the screenplay), Amy Schumer is sensational as Renee. This is a tricky, adeptly modulated performance, one that alternates between introspective and extroverted, low-key and broader (but never over-the-top). Schumer has an energy and rhythm not quite like any other actor, her charisma and likability—as well as her gift for knocking a comedic situation or spiky one-liner out of the park—placing her in the viewers' positive graces even when her characters make mistakes or overstep boundaries. It's all a part of Renee's journey, and the arc she experiences is sensitively layered and intimately portrayed. In one of his first leading roles, comedian Rory Scovel (2017's "The House") is a real fine as Ethan, someone who shares many of the same insecurities Renee once did. Scovel feels like a real guy rather than an overly sculpted Hollywood actor, and he and Schumer share a lovely chemistry. Their first kiss, taking place at a "Movie Night in the Park" date in Central Park, is worthy of a swoon.

Michelle Williams (2017's "The Greatest Showman"), underused for too long in the world of comedy, is a highlight as Avery LeClaire, the willowy CEO who fears the high, baby-doll pitch of her voice is a hindrance to being taken seriously. Williams' bold choices in playing this character could have gone very wrong, but she commits so fully to becoming Avery one cannot help but love her every minute onscreen. The ensemble cast is so strong, just about everyone makes an impression: Busy Philipps (2015's "The Gift") and Aidy Bryant (a standout on TV's "Saturday Night Live"), endearing and real as Renee's best friends Jane and Vivian; Emily Ratajkowski (2015's "Entourage"), overcome with her own personal struggles that no amount of knockout looks will fix as gym acquaintance Mallory; Sasheer Zamata (2016's "Yoga Hosers") as gym receptionist Tasha, on a one-track mission to avoid getting sued following Renee's Soul Cycle accident; and Lauren Hutton (2010's "The Joneses"), in a welcome turn as cosmetic company matriarch Lily LeClaire.

"I Feel Pretty" is a deeply felt, socially woke comedy that neither rides on a wave of faux-empowerment nor sugarcoats the struggles people go through to feel better about themselves. Yet empowering it is, the picture understanding everyone has their own baggage to rifle through and hopefully, in time, toss out. Writer-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein treat their premise, like their protagonist, with spark and compassion. There is a plot hole or two—if Renee truly believes she is suddenly primed for the couture runway, how does she not notice she is still wearing the same size clothing as the pre-transformation Renee?—and the film, at 110 minutes, goes on about ten minutes too long. These are minor quibbles, all told. With the irrepressible Amy Schumer leading the way, "I Feel Pretty" excels at being both fiercely entertaining and perceptibly wise.
© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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