Schumer’s ‘I Feel Pretty’ a lightning rod for controversy
In her breakout movie “Trainwreck,” Amy Schumer’s character is called “pretty-ish,” as a kind of back-handed compliment.
And now, her latest movie is called “I Feel Pretty.” It might appear that one’s looks – or specifically her looks – are a preoccupation with Schumer. But that’s not really the case. The operative word in “I Feel Pretty” is the second, not the third, word. It’s how Schumer’s character feels about her looks and herself that’s central to the film, NOT her actual appearance.
Being one of the top comics in the business, Schumer is not going to pass up the chance to have some fun with her physique, of course. But it’s mostly done in the service of a larger theme. Like a good fairy tale, the movie has a simple story with a clear moral.
Schumer plays Renee, a woman who runs the website of a high-end cosmetics company. She may not measure up, physically, to the wafer-thin models who populate her workplace, but she dreams of that anyway.
And after she bumps her head hard in an accident at SoulCycle, she thinks those dreams have come true.
“Oh my God. Do you see this? Look at me. Look at my jaw line. I always wanted this to happen. You always dream this will happen, but I never thought it would really happen. Look at me!”
The joke is she hasn’t changed at all. The only thing that’s changed is her view of herself. And that makes all the difference.
Suddenly, because of her new-found confidence, she develops the nerve to apply for better jobs, flirt with more men, and generally improve her lot in life. Of course, a lot of the humor lies in her misinterpreting things, always in her favor. Here she’s in line at a drycleaners, holding her customer number, when an unassuming man asks her a completely innocent question:
Man: What’s your number?
Amy: So this is how it happens. Just like that.
M: Just like what? What happens like what?
A: That is very clever.
M: I don’t know why that is clever. What is clever?
A: What’s your number and I go 118. And then you’re like, no, your phone number. You are good. How long have you been hanging on to that nugget?
This particular man ends up falling for her, of course, because he’s so drawn to her sheer confidence, her perceived willingness to be exactly who she is and not care what others think. That’s a nice self-empowerment message for PG-13 girls.
But confidence, as it turns out, is not the end-all and be-all. Her new cocky personality alienates her old friends, and when she really needs them later on, they’re not around. In a stirring climactic speech, Amy/Renee has to learn to reconcile her two selves: her idealized self and her former self.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a comedy about women’s insecurities about their looks has become a lightning rod for controversy. Social media critics jumped all over the film’s trailer when it appeared Schumer was buying into the “thin-is-beautiful” mantra. And now that the movie is in theatres, it’s getting attacked on at least two other fronts. One is that Schumer is a good-looking blonde woman moaning about the fact that she isn’t an even more beautiful blonde woman. And the other is that Schumer is encouraging us to laugh at her looks, all the while pretending that looks don’t really matter. I’ll grant you, “I Feel Pretty” is treading some tricky ground here. And even Schumer admits it’s not a perfectly calibrated movie.
But for the most part, I think the movie is more earnest than cynical, and more heartfelt than manipulative. And it’s what’s inside that counts, right?