Amy Schumer exhibits a gentler, vulnerable side in “I Feel Pretty,” a movie whose underlying messages about body image and self-esteem – a source of pre-release controversy – at times exist somewhat uncomfortably with the obligation to allow its star to play up the silliness. The net result is a mildly likable movie that, in comedy terms, won’t win any pageants.
Allowed to express a bit more depth and character than she did in “Trainwreck” and “Snatched,” Schumer plays Renee, who is shown attending an SoulCycle class and feeling out of place alongside fitness fanatics. Yes, she has a pair of pals (Busy Philipps, “Saturday Night Live’s” Aidy Bryant) who also aren’t conventional Vogue cover candidates, but she can’t help pining for what she perceives as the easy life she’s missed by not looking more like a runway model.
In an overt homage to “Big,” Renee utters a quiet prayer to be “undeniably pretty,” and after a blow to the head at the aforementioned class, thinks her wish has been magically granted. To everyone else, she looks exactly the same, which makes the change in her behavior – just assuming that everyone is drooling over her – a trifle delusional, if sporadically quite funny.
The twist and not-so-subtle lesson, in this directorial debut from the writing team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (“Never Been Kissed”), is that the burst of self-confidence Renee enjoys causes things to start coming up roses for her, in a way that reinforces her perceptions. She wins over a guy, Ethan (comic Rory Scovel), who’s charmed by her quirks; and earns a promotion at the elite beauty company where she works, unaware that she’s been chosen in an effort to shed an “elitist” image and help market a “diffusion” line aimed at women who don’t fit the customary fashion-magazine profile.
Because of the structure, Schumer really has to carry the movie, and she’s quite good on that level. But the I-don’t-see-what-you-see shtick, and interaction with snooty beauty queens, wears thin in places, in part because a slim conceit that should have run a crisp 90 minutes or so drags on close to two hours. That’s especially true when the eventual payoff – about learning to accept oneself – is so transparent from the get-go.
“You don’t really care how the world sees you,” Ethan tells Renee early in their relationship, which is of course the opposite of where she is, but rather where she’s heading.
The movie does receive a welcome shot of adrenaline from Michelle Williams as the heiress to the cosmetics empire (Lauren Hutton pops in as her grandma), whose Barbie-esque appearance is balanced by self-consciousness about her high-pitched voice. In that regard, “I Feel Pretty” endeavors to note that insecurity can prey upon anyone, including those who outwardly seem to have it all.
The criticism notwithstanding, that part of the movie showcases more heart from Schumer than we’ve seen in some of her previous vehicles, while employing a slightly toned-down approach that avoided an “R” rating. Yet while there’s a good deal to like about “I Feel Pretty,” one needn’t have experienced a head blow to be unable to completely overlook its flaws.
“I Feel Pretty” opens April 20 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13.