Three years ago, when the trailer for Amy Schumer’s starring debut Trainwreck landed online, loathsome movie blogger and sentient cowboy hat Jeffrey Welles took to his glorified LiveJournal to announce to the world, unprompted, that he didn’t buy the movie’s premise because its star was not someone “a lot of guys want to bang.” Yes, that’s a direct quote. “[T]here’s no way she’d be an object of heated romantic interest in the real world,” insisted the self-appointed arbiter of boners (who, by the way, looks like this). “Schumer’s wide facial features reminded me of a blonde Lou Costello around the time of Buck Privates, or Jennifer Aniston‘s somewhat heavier, not-as-lucky sister who watches a lot of TV.” Wells was rightfully called out for this nonsense, not only by the online community, but by Schumer herself – both on Twitter and in the 12 Angry Menepisode of Inside Amy Schumer, which amounted to a 30-minute middle finger to Wells. Trainwreck, meanwhile, was a commercial and critical success, and that was that.
And that’s why it’s so bizarre that her new film, I Feel Pretty, feels like its makers read Wells’ original post, scratched their chins, and announced, “Wait, hang on. Let’s make a movie for guys like that.”
Produced by McG (so enjoy the irony of a film about unrealistic beauty standards coming from the guy who made the Charlie’s Angels movies) and written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (the team behind the passable How To Be Single and the vomitorious He’s Just Not That Into You), I Feel Pretty finds Schumer playing Renee, a self-hating would-be career girl whose near-concussion in a Soul Cycle class prompts her to believe she is, per her longtime wish, “undeniably pretty.”
We don’t see what Renee thinks she sees (presumably to avoid the pitfalls of something like Shallow Hal), but whatever it is, it gives her the confidence that’s long eluded her – to go for the guys she likes and the job she wants and to be her best self, etc. But I Feel Pretty is ostensibly a comedy, and as such, it consists of one joke, told over and over again: that Amy Schumer’s character thinks she’s (gasp) attractive. As opposed to Trainwreck, which accepted her as attractive, and went from there.
Instead, Pretty’s comic set pieces alternate between clumsy slapstick and the uproarious incongruity of a woman of average build doing, for example, stripper moves at a dive bar bikini contest. Is this stuff supposed to be funny? These scenes are cut and shot like they’re jam-packed with laughs, but our audience was so quiet and uncomfortable, you’d think we were at a rep screening of Shoah. And though it is all of course softened by a mealy-mouth message about true beauty lying within and so forth, the picture’s point-of-view is so jarringly confused, it’s not even clear what the jokes are meant to be; when Schumer and would-be boyfriend Rory Scovel first hook up, it’s entirely possible to assume he keeps turning off the lights because he’s uncomfortable with her naked body. Maybe not! Who knows!
Early on, there’s a brief scene in which Renee guzzles wine and watches Big on TV, a wink to the magic realism of its plot twist – or a tell that this was an unfilmed script from 1988. It certainly feels like it, from the whiplash tonal switches to a semi-serious romance up to the climax, which finds our heroine (of course) making a big scene at a huge public event that every other character attends.
There is exactly one reason to contemplate seeing I Feel Pretty: Michelle Williams’s uproariously funny supporting turn as Renee’s rich, famous, and wildly out-of-touch boss. You might ask, not unreasonably, what an actor of this caliber is doing slumming it a secondary role in a JV Schumer picture, and there is an explanation: her BFF Busy Phillips, who co-stars as one of Renee’s buddies, is married to co-director Silverstein. But rather than phoning in a favor-to-a-friend role, Williams commits felony-level theft of the movie; she displays killer coming timing, gets giggles every time she pipes up with the character’s breathy, airy voice, and lands perhaps the film’s biggest laugh by pronouncing “Kohl’s” as a two-syllable word. There’s often a very particular joy in watching a Serious Actor having a great time playing around, and that’s what’s happening here.
Dave Attell also contributes a brief, funny bit as the emcee of the aforementioned bikini contest (offering up biographical tidbits like “She’s been in eleven of our United States”), but that’s about all I Feel Pretty has to offer. Kohn and Silverstein orchestrate the events with irritating predictability – not just in terms of plotting, but in actual lines of dialogue– dramatized in a drab, vanilla style (underlined by Michael Andrews’s twinkle-fuck score), with bewilderingly punchy pacing (it runs 110 minutes and I know it’s a cliché to say a movie could be twenty minutes shorter, but good God this movie could be twenty minutes shorter). Trainwreck may not have been the feminist manifesto its audience was looking for, but it was at least casually progressive. On the heels of last summer’s unfortunate Snatched, I Feel Pretty is a puzzling, worrisome step backwards for its star.
“I Feel Pretty” is out Friday.