If you've ever walked into a store and were embarrassed to tell the salesperson your real size, or entered the gym locker room and wanted to hide, you're part of the target audience for Amy Schumer's "I Feel Pretty." Whatever age or gender you happen to be.
Self-esteem issues related to body image are, without doubt, a social epidemic — a painful and dangerous one, for many girls and young women. And there's nothing controversial about that message, though judging by some of the heated online reaction to the trailer for "I Feel Pretty," you'd think the film was proposing a new conspiracy theory about JFK's assassination.
The real problem with "I Feel Pretty," written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, is not in its message or conception, but in its ragtag execution. On the plus side, it's often a pleasantly entertaining ride with the always appealing Schumer, and its heart is in the right place. It also features a truly terrific comic turn by Michelle Williams (drama, musicals, now comedy — is there anything she can't do?) On the minus side, it muddles its message with an overstuffed script, choppy editing, and some unnecessarily over-the-top moments. Not to mention a sappy ending that actually comes close to contradicting its own premise.
Schumer is Renee Bennett, a young woman who looks in the mirror and doesn't like what she sees. What she sees, is, well, Amy Schumer — and that's one of the things that has annoyed some people, who say that if Schumer epitomizes unattractiveness, what about the rest of us? Still, the actress is plenty believable as an average-looking, Spanx-wearing woman who aspires to look more like the Amazonian supermodels she runs into at SoulCycle, and at the cosmetics company where she works, relegated to an offsite basement in Chinatown.
What's less believable is the overly negative reaction of some of those around her. A pretty saleswoman immediately approaches Renee in a chic clothing store and says, "You can probably find your size online." A baby even breaks into tears at the sight of her. OK, that's a little much.
In any case, one day at SoulCycle, Renee has an accident. She hits her head — three times! — falls unconscious, and wakes up thinking she's beautiful.
And therein lies another objection from critics of the trailer: Does a woman have to be knocked unconscious to think she's beautiful? OK, but the movie is using that as a vehicle to show how low self-esteem clouds our vision of ourselves. Also, Renee doesn't see some other, glamorous face in the mirror; she sees herself. And it's fun to see Renee suddenly confident enough to go for that plum promotion at Lily LeClair headquarters, working alongside snooty CEO Avery LeClair herself (Williams, with long blonde hair and a hysterically breathy voice, perhaps a throwback to her Marilyn Monroe days.)
She gets the job. She also gets Ethan, the cute guy in line at the dry cleaners (a wry and appealing Rory Scovel). On their first date, engineered by Renee of course, they wind up at a bikini contest filled with supermodel types where Renee fearlessly flaunts her stuff. Afraid for her at first, Ethan quickly admires how comfortable she is in her own skin, and falls for her. Their relationship alone is a nice, simple lesson in trusting one's own attributes.
But this film doesn't stick with simple. It finds multiple ways to say the same thing. Another apparently budding relationship, between Renee and Avery's rich and coddled brother, Grant (Tom Hopper), is toyed with and then seemingly dropped, as if the movie was just getting too long (which it is.)
Inevitably, things go astray. Renee offends her two buddies, Jane (Busy Philipps) and Vivian (an underused Aidy Bryant), by getting too big for her britches, metaphorically. And then, just when she's about to hit real success on the job, something happens to make her see herself in the old way, once again.
But, as they do in romantic comedies, things have a way of working out. At least, for Renee. As for us, we're left with one of those let's-wrap-it-all-up scenes that reaffirms Renee's special qualities — so far, so good — and then spills over into unmitigated sap. "What I am is ME," she declares. (You half expect her to break out into that empowerment anthem of the moment, "This is Me" from "The Greatest Showman.") What, she asks, would it be like if nobody cared how they looked?
Well, it would be great. But it's hard to ignore that Renee is, at that moment, hawking a cosmetics line. And so IS it all about acceptance and loving one's true self? Or is it about finding the right concealer?
"I Feel Pretty," an STX Entertainment release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America "for sexual content, some partial nudity, and language." Running time: 110 minutes. Two stars out of four.