The passe comic pair who gave us “Never Been Kissed” tamp down Amy Schumer’s go-to coarseness into PG-13 territory for “I Feel Pretty,” an almost-empowering, never-quite-hilarious farce that gets by on charm.
That’s right. Schumer comes off as shockingly sweet–Drew Barrymore sweet — in this film about a plus-size woman who discovers her sexual mojo, her confidence and herself when brain trauma makes her think she’s Fashion Week material.
Co-writer/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein pack a lot of body image/self-confidence/skinny-sexy classism into this one. And if it’s not exactly the rawdog confessional “Trainwreck” was, it’s measurably more palatable than “Snatched,” even if Schumer has to dial back the Big and Sexy, Get Used to It vulgarian that’s been Schumer’s bread and butter.
She plays Rene Bennett, mild-mannered website worker for famed fashion line Lily LeClaire. She works in a Chinatown storefront with tech troll Mason (Adrian Martinez, always good for laughs) and dreams of making it into the home office up on Fifth Avenue.
She is, like her besties (Busy Philips and Aidy Bryant), aspirational. All she wants is clothes that fit, attention-getting makeup, a fun job, a little respect and a beau. But if you don’t look like say, Emily Ratajkowski or Naomi Campbell, you’re invisible — on dating websites, in New York bars and at Lily LeClaire, whose offices are populated with a vast selection of the world’s skinniest and most put-together runway ready bombshells.
“No one even reads the profiles” on those dating sites, she gripes. And she’s right. A culture that worships the superficial doesn’t even see her. But she tries. She’s downmarket fashionable, and thick-featured or not, she’s fit. She never misses a Soul Cycle class.
But that’s where everything changes fo her, a transformation that’s wholly within her head because she’s had it bashed pretty good by getting it caught in those Soul Cycle pedals. This is where Schumer shines, utterly selling the narcissism that sweeps over Rene when she looks in the mirror and sees someone like Emily Ratajkowski (“Blurred Lines”), who happens to be on the cycle next to her.
Just having confidence in her appearance transforms her life. She’s instantly entitled. Every guy is whistling at HER, every door is being held open for HER. And that cute dorky CNN editor (Rory Scovel) in line behind her at the dry cleaners? He’s hitting on HER.
Actually, he isn’t, and that’s the best running gag in the picture. He’s a bit scared, thrown on his heels by her chutzpah, like everybody she meets. Rene, presentable enough to not scare the horses, is still the ONLY one who thinks, “Guys, I’m a KARDASHIAN! One of the JENNER ones!”
Oscar winner Michelle Williams trots out a Kardashian Era mousy voice (with vocal fry) as Avery, the heir to the Lily LeClaire thrown her grandmother (Lauren Hutton) still sits upon. She latches onto Rene as her conduit to the sort of down-market (Target) customer the “elitist bitches” makeup company now wants to “pivot” to embrace.
“Regular girls put on their makeup in the rearview,” Rene reports. And Lily LeClaire listens.
There’s a giggle of a scene where Rene brazenly interviews for the front desk receptionist job at the company, a job held by a succession of would-be models. “Yes, modeling IS an option for me,” she brags — to the CFO (Supermodel Naomi Campbell) and CEO (Williams).
A beachside bar bikini contest brings out Rene’s “Flashdancer” delusions. In such scenes, riffing, dancing and dousing herself, Schumer lays it all out there.
The picture stops almost dead in its tracks at the 90 minute mark as we see Rene almost become the sort of dismissive “normal” beauty we’ve seen put her down. Tom Hopper is the other LeClaire heir, a louche hunk who, like many others, finds Rene refreshing and charming.
Of course too much of the edge the picture needs to truly make a comment on the objectification of women, body shaming and the class wars that we’re all subjected to by Beautiful People is rubbed off.
But Bryant, Philips (married to co-director Silverstein), Schumer and Williams all score points on these subjects, just not slam dunks.
And Schumer comes off downright demure at times, no mean feat for a woman who gained fame via a TV series whose title wasn’t so much an innuendo as a come-on — “Inside Amy Schumer.”
Maybe its by design, as she’s one of the most divisive comics working today, no matter what the box office take of “Trainwreck” was. But even with much of her edge smoothed over, Schumer is still reasonably funny. Who knew she could be charming, too?
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for sexual content, some partial nudity, and language
Cast: AMy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Lauren Hutton, Rory Scovel, Tom Hopper, Busy Phillips, Aidy Bryant, Naomi Campbell
Running time: 1:46