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Friday, 20 April 2018

I Feel Pretty

(M) ★½

Director: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein.

Cast: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Rory Scovel, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps, Tom Hopper, Lauren Hutton.

"I ... will eat ... your ... soul!"
This feels like it could have been the uplifting "you go girl" movie of the moment; a tale of a "plus-sized" woman making a wish and getting what she wants - which is to "feel pretty". It's like an updated gender-flipped Big combined with a weird inversion of What Women Want. What Big Women Want perhaps? (Sorry, that's terrible, it won't happen again).

But if you find that confusing, then wait til you try to get your head around the message I Feel Pretty is sending out. I'm not a woman - and therefore I'm not the target audience - but I reckon most women would be perplexed by what's on display here.

Schumer stars as Renee, an ordinary woman with self-esteem issues who finds her life transformed when she suffers a head injury during fitness class. The concussion leaves her seeing herself differently - her physical appearance hasn't changed at all, but suddenly the face looking back at her from the mirror is the gorgeous goddess she had always dreamed of becoming.

You can get what writers-directors Kohn and Silverstein are trying to do. They're trying to make a movie about positive body image while getting across the idea that all you need is a bit of confidence and self-belief. These are very worthy ambitions for a film.

Sadly, these ambitions are not achieved because I Feel Pretty's script and delivery is constantly bodyshaming its main character (and a couple of side characters), in a sense belittling its target audience. It's repeatedly asking us to laugh at the misguided notion that Schumer's Renee isn't pretty despite the fact she feels pretty. In reality - and I'm not even going out on a limb with this one - Schumer is an attractive woman, but that's not even the point. Unless I'm reading this completely wrong, the central premise here is supposed to be that Renee is unattractive and we should be laughing at her for not realising she's unattractive.

The movie's obviously pushing a message about being confident and beautiful in your own body, but it continually undermines that message. Case in point is a bikini contest the overconfident Renee enters, competing alongside a lot of women who are conventionally more beautiful than her (at least that's the gag they're going for). We're encouraged to laugh at a woman flaunting her body because ... I'm not sure why. Because she doesn't conform with some kind of idea of beauty? Why are we being asked to laugh here?

Add onto this the film's climax, in which Schumer's character espouses the principle of being comfortable in your own skin, and embracing who you are, in between which she implores women to buy and wear her company's make-up, because, hey, a woman's gotta make a living. Or is it because you can only be comfortable in your skin to a point, and then you need make-up? Obviously there's a very complex discussion out there about the role of make-up, standards of beauty, and the difference between female and male expectations, but this weird mish-mash of commercial and societal ideals of how a woman should look mixed with a "be true unto thineself" spiritual mantra makes for a confusing mess. 

As a result, the film feels like its walking a fine line the whole time - important message about self belief here, laugh at the overconfident ugly-duckling-who-thinks-she's-a-swan there. And bam, the film isn't funny. It's hard to laugh when there's a message about confidence and being beautiful in your own body, while at the same time the film's poking fun at how its lead character looks and laughing at her overconfidence. What laughs there are come between long stretches of fidgety uneasiness.

It's a shame because Schumer is giving it her all. She's as funny as is possible in the situation. Williams is also great as the make-up empire heiress, who is as equally self-conscious as Renee but for different reasons. There is a bit of a feeling Williams wandered on to the set from a much better farce film being made next door. Scovel is also great, but largely the rest of the cast disappear into Schumer's shadow when they should be clamouring to chew the scenery.

I realise I'm not the target audience for this, and I realise there are some really complex issues and societal forces at play here, but I Feel Pretty doesn't nail many of them. And when they do hit a target, something happens to undercut the message, often within a matter of seconds.

Even leaving its big ideas to the side, the script has to work really hard to keep its high concept going until Renee's climactic revelation. By that point, things are getting pretty contrived.

There are moments where it feels like this could work, but by the end the overwhelming sensation is one of confusion. Maybe that says more about being a woman today than a successfully delivered message does.

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