Today, thanks to conversations across gender, racial, and cultural barriers, we have more ways of discussing body/self image than ever before. We’re even (occasionally) seeing these discussions on our screens, in shows like Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Netflix’s new iteration of Queer Eye, and in movies like Call Me By Your Name, A Fantastic Woman, and even Wonder Woman.
Which is one reason why Amy Schumer’s latest movie, I Feel Pretty, is such a letdown. It’s an idea with plenty of opportunities to go to interesting places. Instead, it stays in a spot that feels clichéd, dated, and even narrow-minded.
Schumer plays Renee, a single woman in New York who works for a cosmetics company and suffers a major lack of confidence and self-esteem. At a SoulCycle class one day, Renee smacks her head and comes-to believing that she’s a completely different-looking, gorgeous woman. Her new self-image gives her the confidence to go out and do anything she wants, while her friends and co-workers (who, of course, see the same person they always have) are impressed by Renee’s newfound moxie.
To I Feel Pretty’s credit, it does have some admirable aspects. The movie gives Renee a sweet, Zumba-practicing love interest (Rory Scovel), and friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps) whose body types and personal style don’t seem to define how happy they are. And, clichéd though it might be, the movie also highlights the insecurities of the women Renee knows who seem to have it all — her boss (Michelle Williams), and a gorgeous fellow SoulCycler (Emily Ratajkowski).
But I Feel Pretty is mainly a superficial enterprise. There are plenty of opportunities for smart satire here, but co-writers and directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein stick to a simplistic interpretation — one that claims to push for female empowerment, but still remains concerned with looks and a pretty narrow definition of beauty norms.
Renee finds success at work helping to develop a line of cosmetic products for Target. Her empowering speech at the end of the film, at the line’s official launch, is a rallying cry for women to regain their “little girl confidence” — by buying makeup. Troublingly, while women of color do appear in the film, I Feel Pretty never bothers extending its explorations of confidence and body issues to these characters, suggesting that white women’s experiences are the narratives that matter to the filmmakers. (They are happy to play hip-hop artist Lizzo’s empowerment anthem “Good as Hell” over the closing credits.)
I Feel Pretty’s problems might be more easily ignored if it weren’t arriving in the midst of a wider conversation about representation in mainstream culture. Women’s questions around self-esteem, and the patriarchal society that creates and perpetuates these questions, are being discussed in ever-more-inclusive ways. We need media that reflects that inclusivity.
Instead, I Feel Pretty feels dated and disappointing. It’s good to be reminded of the importance of considering the struggles of people around you, as Renee learns. But you don’t need to buy anything, or hit your head, to make that happen — all you have to do is be compassionate.