For a film that has a very hip comedy cast and hopes to embrace the trendy body positivity movement, I Feel Pretty comes off as a bit of a throwback. The fact that this movie feels familiar isn’t always a bad thing. It’s written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, the creative team behind the sweet and underrated tearjerker The Vow and most notably for the goofy gem Never Been Kissed.
There’s obvious connective tissue between Pretty and Kissed. They’re both stories about underdog women who feel that they’ve missed out on a essential, enjoyable part of life. In the case of Kissed, it’s high school popularity. For I Feel Pretty, it’s about the ease and perks of life that come with being gorgeous. Both topics feel very relevant and speak to a lot of women, asking how their lives might be different if they could change this one looming thing. For Kissed, that alternate option gets played out when the adult journalist Josie must go undercover as a high school student. In Pretty, Renee (played by Amy Schumer) dreams of being a stunner and, after a dramatic fall of a Soulcycle bike, suddenly sees herself as “undeniably pretty.”
Another similarity between the two films is the very specific kind of leading lady. There’s something about Amy Schumer and Drew Barrymore that feel very much aligned. Maybe it’s that they both are very willing to take a pratfall in order to sacrifice glamour for comedy. As opposed to other Hollywood starlets, they come off as approachable and like an ideal best friend. There are times in I Feel Pretty that could have been straight from the charming acting school of Drew. There’s one scene where Schumer’s Renee gets a job as a receptionist at this upscale beauty line Lily LeClaire (a mix between Elizabeth Arden and Glossier), and while she’s not an Amazonian supermodel like the other employees, she’s possibly the nicest and most personable front desk gal in the history of business. Renee is definitely a softer, more bubby, more Drew-esque character than Schumer has ever done. In some scenes it’s delightful – like her appearance in a wet t-shirt contest – but other times the Schumer with an edge, like in Trainwreck, is sorely missed.
The general theme of the film feels cribbed from movies like The Devil Wears Prada, 13 Going on 30, and Big. Renee, while living a fine life with a decent job and nice friends, feels woefully self-conscious and thinks that if only she was beautiful her life would be a lot better. After she does hit her head and see herself as pretty, it’s literally and figuratively all in her head. There’s no Shallow Hal, optical illusion work at play. The topic of body confidence may be different, but the way the story is told feels so aligned with so many past romcoms that the plot it utterly predictable.
The only true unexpected delight is the stunt-ish casting of Michelle Williams as Avery LeClaire, the underestimated head of her grandmother’s beauty line Lily LeClaire. Williams isn’t known for her comedic work, and that’s a damn shame because her subtle facial expressions and line delivery are pitch perfect, bringing the majority of the laughs in the film. To avoid spoilers, I won’t reveal the real comedic feat Williams performs in the film. All I’ll say is that in some ways it reminded me a lot of Tilda Swinton’s complete comedic transformation in Trainwreck. Both Williams and Swinton show off talented dramatic actresses uncanny ability to understand a character so fully that they know exactly what elements to illuminate to bring the laughs. If anything great comes out of this film, it will be that Williams gets to do more comedy.
The other casting choices aren’t lackluster necessarily, just underutilized. Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps play Renee’s best friends, but they’re only really allowed to be a plot device. These actresses, along with Sasheer Zamata (who plays a Soulcycle receptionist), are really hilarious in previous roles and I Feel Pretty barely scratches the surface of their abilities. Rory Scovel, a seasoned comedic actor, is charming as Renee’s boyfriend, but he too seems a little too much like a reboot of Chris O’Dowd’s character in Bridesmaids.
Essentially there’s nothing special or unique about I Feel Pretty. At less than 2 hours, it’s the easy listening version of a romcom. The only thing that felt briefly fresh in this film was Michelle Williams, so the rest of the movie just felt like a collection of missed opportunities.