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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Review: 'I Feel Pretty' is far from pretty

Just as sexist stereotypes are being challenged, the comedian’s new film sadly seems to reinforce them

Cast member Amy Schumer poses at the premiere of 'I Feel Pretty' in Los Angeles Reuters
Cast member Amy Schumer poses at the premiere of 'I Feel Pretty' in Los Angeles Reuters

It’s unfortunate, and more than a little ironic, that sometime “voice of the average woman” Amy Schumer should choose to appear in I Feel Pretty in the era of #MeToo and No Body Shame.

It is also a time when there is a push to emphasise what women can do and who they really are, rather than what they look like, whether they are successfully accessorised, or, in the case of certain Hollywood producers, what they can do for/to you.

I don’t imagine there was any malice in Schumer’s involvement, the American comic probably just figured she was taking on a goofy comedy that pokes gentle fun at her perceived averageness, and that could perhaps give a light-hearted lift to other women – and indeed also men – who worry about not being perfect.

Schumer, a 36-year-old New Yorker, has previously appeared in movies Trainwreck and Snatched, and regularly makes fun of her averageness in her own stand-up sets, right?

So what harm can it do?

But the difference is, in her own sets she shows enough self-knowledge to poke said fun with an air of indignation, of knowing that what she’s saying is ridiculous, and staying just on the right side of becoming the victim of her own unrealistic expectations.

So we can only assume that she didn’t actually read Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein’s script before she agreed to take the part because in it they display all the self-awareness and subtlety of the Farrelly Brothers’ Shallow Hal.

The plot centres on Renee, an ordinary woman who is a couple of dress sizes bigger than she’d like to be and not brimming with self-confidence, who is working at a luxury cosmetics company. For some reason, presumably related to said ordinariness, however, she works in a dingy, out-of-the-way office with just one, equally ordinary, co-worker, far away from the airy, bright corridors of the main office, where supermodels glide along the corridors.

Then, one day, Renee (Schumer) is so busy jealously checking out all the thinner, “prettier” women at her Soul Cycle spin class, she falls and bangs her head. On waking from her concussion, she sees an all-new “conventionally beautiful” version of herself in the mirror.

Naturally, the newly self-confident Renee rapidly ascends the company’s ranks so she can dedicate her life to shifting units of the new budget line of beauty products to ordinary women who share her erstwhile lack of self-esteem; bags a boyfriend (Rory Scovel) and becomes the envy of her new supermodel friends.

The film is so riddled with mixed messages it is hard to know where to begin. It would be nice to come away feeling that the overall theme is one of “it’s not what you look like that counts, but what’s inside”.

Sadly, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the main central joke is essentially that it’s comical in itself that anyone of Schumer’s build and appearance could be attractive. Further to that, what’s inside Renee hasn’t actually changed, merely her perception of her outer self.

So why does this woman – who we are told in the film’s first act is a decent, if ordinary, human being – then become so downright obnoxious to her peers when her self-esteem suddenly improves?

In one scene where the beautiful Mallory, played by supermodel Emily Ratajkowski of Blurred Lines video fame, is swiftly shut down when she tries to discuss her problems, we’re given the added implication that beautiful women aren’t capable of, or entitled to, any sort of emotional depth or feelings. So ordinary women who aspire to be beautiful are funny, and beautiful women are shallow, it seems, is the message of this film. And Renee grows increasingly shallow the more convinced she becomes of her own beauty.

The film isn’t overtly offensive, although having belittled the ordinary woman who aspires to beauty and the supermodel-beautiful woman who clearly has no brain, it’s hard to know exactly what demographic the audience is supposed to come from.

Is the secret masterplan to have men queuing in the aisles for a peek into women’s “crazy” insecurities, in a film co-written and directed by a man?

Both writer/director Silverstein and Schumer have defended the movie after an online backlash to the trailer in February that made the Ghostbusters reboot look ­eagerly anticipated.

Silverstein even went so far as to basically say that everyone else was wrong, telling MTV: “It [the backlash] was super frustrating because once you’ve seen the movie, you know that it could not be farther from the truth.”

Err, sorry Mark, it could be significantly farther from the truth. It’s a shame – these are the sort of issues that Schumer adeptly, and amusingly, sends up in her comedy without straying into the “unfunny sexist generalisations” box.

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After Schumer’s film Snatched last year, which the comic also didn’t write, and in which white, middle-class Schumer and her white, middle-class mother, played by Goldie Hawn, deftly defeated some funny-accented dark-skinned men through the power of white, motherly love, I’ve got a suggestion: Either stop trying to break into movies, or start writing your own scripts.

I Feel Pretty is released in UAE cinemas on Thursday

I Feel Pretty
Dir: Abby Kohn/Mark Silverstein
Starring: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Rory Scovel