Where’s Judd Apatow when you need him?
The comedy I Feel Pretty seems like an Apatowian undertaking in almost every regard: modestly high-concept, gently moralistic, and starring Amy Schumer, who had her big-screen breakthrough in Apatow’s 2015 movie Trainwreck. All that’s missing is any actual participation by Apatow himself—which is a pity, because the intelligence and nuance (not to mention humor) customary in his work are precisely what this film could have used.
The directorial debut of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, I Feel Pretty is a would-be feminist fable about beauty and self-esteem—specifically, how the former is valued far too much and the latter far too little. Alas, the movie is a hopeless muddle of conflicting messages that frequently upholds the very stereotypes it is intended to rebut. In short, it’s very much the type of “feminist” comedy one might expect from Kohn and Silverstein, the screenwriting duo responsible for the infuriatingly ill-spirited He’s Just Not That Into You, among other sexual-politics misfires (Valentine’s Day, How to Be Single).
Much of the criticism directed at the film has centered, correctly, on the fact that narrative “ugly duckling” Schumer is not, in fact, unattractive by any standard except the borderline-impossible ideals of Hollywood. But that is only the beginning of the movie’s problems with its putative theme.
The plot in essence (and it never moves meaningfully beyond that): Renee Bennett (Schumer) works in a basement office, tending to the web site of the cosmetic company Lily LeClaire. Insecure about her looks, she joins a SoulCycle class in which she suffers multiple humiliations—she splits the crotch of her leggings and breaks her bike! Get it?—before eventually falling off the cycle altogether and hitting her head. Miraculously, now when she looks at herself in a mirror, she sees not her old self, but rather a version of her that is the most beautiful woman in the world. (More miraculously still, she never asks herself how this transformation might have taken place.)
Though Renee still looks the same to everyone else, she is brimming with the confidence of the newly gorgeous. Giddy, she quits her old job and sets her sights high, high, high: Rather than maintain a website for Lily LeClaire, she applies for, and wins, a job as the company’s—wait for it—receptionist. That’s correct: She doesn’t accept a high-powered business internship or rise to be a corporate CEO. She welcomes people