A movie about body positivity featuring a female comic sounds like a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want a film preaching acceptance? Yet somehow, “I Feel Pretty” drastically misses the mark. Far from celebrating every type of body, “I Feel Pretty” instead places Amy Schumer at the butt of its jokes and ultimately perpetuates the same type of fat-shaming that the film reportedly seeks to disavow.
The narrative centers around Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer), a woman stuck in an unsatisfying job who is deeply unhappy with her own appearance. After suffering a head injury during a SoulCycle class, Renee believes that she has been transformed into a supermodel and finally has the confidence to chase her dreams of working as the face of the makeup company LeClaire.
The reasoning behind why Renee suddenly feels beautiful is problematic any way you look at it. Since Renee is the only one who “changes,” the film posits that a plus-size woman must suffer some sort of brain trauma in order to feel beautiful. If the film’s intended message was that all women are deserving of love despite their appearance, this certainly contradicts that message. Worse still is how starkly unlikable Renee becomes after this imaginary transformation.
Renee certainly begins to acts more confidently, although the overall effect of this is one of annoyance instead of one of empowerment. Far from touting the message that every body is beautiful, Renee finds herself participating in a bizarre power trip due to her believed status as a supermodel. Throughout the course of the film, Renee demands preferential treatment because of how she thinks she looks and seems shocked to discover that “pretty” people such as Mallory (Emily Ratajkowski) could possibly have problems. Not only does this argue that only beautiful women deserve good treatment, but it seemingly reinforces the idea that women must compete in a hierarchical system based on appearance. These moments, however, pale in comparison to the film’s most critical error — the way in which it undermines its supposed thesis by including ample gags centered around Schumer’s weight.
The opening scene tracks Renee’s traumatic trip to SoulCycle, which is one that ultimately ends with her ripping her pants and being forced to walk home in shame. The long tracking shot that follows not only underscores Renee’s embarrassment, but it simultaneously emphasizes how ill-fitting and tight her workout outfit is. This same sort of base jab occurs during a trip to the LeClaire office, where Schumer balances precariously on a decorative log that, apparently, only actual models can gracefully sit upon.
It’s interesting to note that these gags occur even after Renee’s supposed confidence boost — indicating that Schumer is never safe from jokes made at the expense of her body. However, these physical punchlines are still as not as bad as the troubling first date Renee shares with her romantic interest Ethan (Rory Scovel).
Renee decides to enter a bikini contest at a nearby dive bar, much to the chagrin of Ethan, who fears that Renee won’t do as well as the more “attractive” women competing. However, Renee is resolved, and her resulting dance performance is the most damning moment of “I Feel Pretty.”
Schumer gives an over-the-top performance, ostensibly an effort by the film to parody the concept of such contests themselves. However, she ends up being the joke of the scene. The sequence is remarkably uncomfortable to watch because the film is, yet again, making fun of the concept that a woman like Renee could ever be desirable. An extreme close-up of Schumer’s stomach shaking to the beat certainly received chuckles from the audience — it’s clear that they were laughing at Schumer instead of with her.
Making matters worse is Ethan’s begrudging admiration beginning to manifest throughout the scene. Initially unsure about Renee, Ethan finds himself beginning to warm up to her after watching her crawl around onstage, as evidenced by his eventual support through applause. In this sense, “I Feel Pretty” makes a halfhearted attempt to argue that what men really find sexy is confidence. However, the scene really only conveys that plus-size women can be desirable, but only if they subject themselves to a demeaning performance.
The fundamental problem in “I Feel Pretty” lies with the film’s obsession with undermining Schumer at every opportunity. If a film is going to argue for body positivity, maybe the message would be better received without parodying the concept that a plus-size woman could ever be beautiful.
“I Feel Pretty” is now playing at the UA Berkeley 7.