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MOVIE REVIEW: 'I Feel Pretty' bland

Amy Schumer is capable of so much better than this piffle

By PIERS MARCHANT Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published April 20, 2018 at 1:53 a.m.

a-nasty-concussion-gives-the-insecure-and-schlubby-renee-amy-schumer-an-empowering-jolt-of-self-confidence-in-the-romantic-comedy-i-feel-pretty

A nasty concussion gives the insecure and schlubby Renee (Amy Schumer) an empowering jolt of self-confidence in the romantic comedy I Feel Pretty.

I Feel Pretty

81 Cast: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Naomi Campbell, Busy Philipps, Tom Hopper, Rory Scovel, Adrian Martinez, Kevin Kane, Aidy Bryant, Lauren Hutton

Directors: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

Rating: PG-13, for sexual content, some partial nudity, and language

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Besties Vivian (Aidy Bryant), Jane (Busy Philipps) and Renee (Amy Schumer) celebrate with drinkies in I Feel Pretty, the directorial debut of Abby Koh...

Amy Schumer is in a particularly interesting position this far into her career: The comedian, whose eponymous show on Comedy Central saw her star rise meteorically, reached a crescendo with her self-penned feature, Trainwreck, a comedy about a young woman whose life was a series of poor decisions, good parties, and a steady diet of walks of shame before finding true love. With a background in solid, challenging stand-up, TV and film success, she could seemingly go in whatever direction she wanted to. I just hope this depressing trifle isn't emblematic of her future endeavors.

The angle of her comedy has been, unsurprisingly, rooted in her appearance: She is what you might call slightly stout, a pretty blonde but not luxuriously so, more attractive than she often allows in her work, which enables her to perfectly straddle the line between commenting on our obsession with female perfection, while actually being something of a Hollywood starlet herself. In her best and most challenging work -- as in the now-classic "12 Angry Men" episode of her old TV show -- she never lets us forget the ways we are constantly judging her on her looks, even as we are made to laugh at ourselves for doing so. In this way, challenging the tyranny of the male gaze, and forcing men (and other women) to turn that gaze back upon themselves, she's as potentially subversive and culturally upending as Lenny Bruce.

Which is why when she makes a vastly more commercial film, such as this wan rom-com from writer/directors Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein, it feels like such a let down: A moment of potentially potent commentary that gets processed into a vastly more dumbed down, standard rom-com self-empowerment formula.

Schumer plays Renee, a somewhat miserable young woman, working a job for a high-end cosmetic line in one of their crummy satellite offices in a Chinatown basement, with one other co-worker, a nervous looking IT guy (Adrian Martinez), who wants nothing to do with her attempts at light banter. Feeling like a clumsy misfit, hanging out with her two best friends, Jane (Busy Philipps) and Vivian (Aidy Bryant), trying unsuccessfully to take spinning classes, and constantly feeling thwarted by her looks, Renee is living a shell of a life, one that she strongly suspects would be instantly improved 1000 percent, if only she were beautiful, a theory seemingly corroborated by a friendly but skinny-gorgeous woman (Emily Ratajowski) she meets at her fitness class. And then, one night, while watching Big (naturally) on TV, she makes a wish to be beautiful, and after an accident the next day that gives her a tremendous knock on the head, she wakes up to find that, in her eyes, she has suddenly been transformed into the beauty she always so desperately wanted to be.

The film's conceit is that she actually looks exactly the same to us, and to her friends. The only change is in her own eyes, and her new-found confidence, which begins to dominate her line of thinking. No longer content to stand in her own way, she branches out at her job, eventually landing a coveted receptionist gig at the Madison Avenue HQ, where company Chief Executive Officer Avery (Michelle Williams, utilizing a Melanie Griffith-style high-pitched voice), getting called out by her stern grandmother (Lauren Hutton), is struggling to bring out a new "diffusion" line of less expensive cosmetics for the rest of the nonbeauties who might still want to paint their faces.

Along the way, Renee also meets the affable Ethan (Rory Scovel), a sweetly tempered man who becomes captivated by her vigor and spirit. Soon, Renee has seemingly everything she wants, as Avery brings her on board to help lead the new cosmetic line, and with Avery's hunky brother Grant (Tom Hopper), suddenly showing romantic interest in her. She thinks she has reached the pinnacle of success.

It is, of course, at this point that the film hurtles into the utterly formulaic third act, whereupon Renee begins to lose sight of herself, angering her friends, and pushing too hard for everything to continue its upward trajectory. She whacks her head again, loses her magic sense of confidence, and -- get this! -- has to learn how to truly love herself in order to restore the confidence she thought she only had because of her beauty. It turns out, real confidence comes from within, you guys.

It also tries to have it both ways, laughing at Renee's clumsiness and obliviousness about her looks (she jumps into a bikini competition at a beach bar, and at first we're meant to laugh at the contrast between the busty, skinny models she's up against, and her completely nontoned bod), while at the same time, attempting to celebrate the fact that her confidence is such that she doesn't care if we do.

I understand most people don't go to such rom-coms in order to watch the subversion of spent hooks and hokey tropes, and in this way, it wouldn't necessarily matter so much that the film allows itself such hackneyed material, but for the creeping feeling that Schumer and the filmmakers lost an opportunity to do something that actually challenges the normativeness. Schumer has a crackling, seditious wit, an acerbic intelligence that gives her best comedy an edge sharp enough to draw blood, but she seems more than content here to keep that blade tightly held under a protective sheath.

In the film's climactic scene, when Renee, standing in front of a fashion-conscious crowd of beautiful people there to watch the announcement of the new cosmetic line, gives the obligatory Big Speech about the moral lesson we are all meant to have learned, it's as if her voice has been reduced from her regular booming baritone with a tightly controlled sales purr -- dismayingly underscored by the fact that the speech sounds precisely like an existing forced body-positive ad for Dove products, a topic that Schumer has actually previously skewered in her stand-up material. Suddenly, she's no longer the Amy Schumer who challenges the patriarchal, hypocrisy-laden assumptions about feminine beauty and empowerment; she's the big Hollywood star, protecting her brand.

MovieStyle on 04/20/2018

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