When the trailer for this movie came out several months ago, it hit a wall of backlash. This was NOT the moment for a movie with any kind of body-shaming. It appeared to be about a woman (Amy Schumer) who suffers a head injury and then wakes up believing herself to be beautiful. And since Schumer is already a conventionally pretty person, critics felt this merited a culture-wide eye roll. And while they’re not wrong, they don’t quite have the premise of the movie down pat.
What really happens: yes, there is a head injury that leads to Renee’s believing herself to be beautiful. But nobody is pretending that she wasn’t perfectly fine before – only that she suffered from low self-esteem and didn’t realize this herself. Which is a common enough thing.
So while the backlash may have been inspired by misconceptions, it’s not entirely wrong. Renee gains esteem not by empowerment but by delusion. She gets a new job (at a fashion magazine, working for squeaky-voiced Michelle Williams) and a new boyfriend (the perpetually bearded Rory Scovel) and attributes her newfound success to her newfound beauty. And her actions start to reflect those beliefs: she shames her friends (Busy Philipps, Aidy Bryant) for not emphasizing attractiveness and is less than faithful to her ‘nice’ boyfriend when she gets attention from a ‘hot’ guy. So is this purely a positive message? No it is not. But there’s a good intention somewhere in there about how anyone, no matter how they look (*cough*Emily Ratajkowski*cough*), can suffer from low self-esteem. And it’s confidence, not looks, that actually attract good things your way.
Written and directed in a joint effort by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, I can’t help but feel weird about the mixed messages on screen. Like, obviously we’re not supposed to judge a woman’s worth by her looks, and yet we’re encouraged to laugh at Schumer’s “bikini body” as she writhes around on stage. It’s played for laughs. But it’s also pretty powerful commentary if you consider how much that scene makes you uncomfortable. Because societally, we somehow don’t believe that someone who looks anything short of perfection should have body confidence. We shame women for not covering up their flaws. We don’t think that someone who looks like Schumer, who, let’s remember, IS actually living up to conventional beauty standards, even belongs in a beauty pageant or a bikini contest because that’s for one kind of very, very limited beauty that is all but unattainable.
Messaging aside, is this a fun movie to watch? I’d say yes, but it’s inconsistent. I had two REALLY big laughs that I’m ashamed to even admit to, because one was just a computer noise that struck me as totally tragic and genius. But if the message lacks conviction, so do the jokes. In North America, we’ll forgive almost anything if it’s funny enough. I Feel Pretty is not. Sure it doesn’t tell us that looking 19 and weighing less than 120 is the be all and end all, it just tells us that if you’re confident despite those things, it’s funny as hell. Being a woman is tough enough as it is. I just don’t have the 19 year old abs to laugh at this stuff anymore.