Hamilton Herald Masthead Hamilton Herald


Front Page - Friday, April 27, 2018

Critic's Corner: Schumer shows a better side in ‘I Feel Pretty’

If you could change one thing you would change about your appearance, what would you change? Would you be taller? Thinner? More muscular?

And if you were able to change that physical attribute in the blink of an eye, how differently would you feel about yourself the next time you looked in a mirror? How would your life change?

“I Feel Pretty” answers these questions with a shrug. Your looks aren’t important, the movie suggests; all that matters is that people can see the beauty that’s inside of you.

That’s a noble but trite sentiment. And I doubt it would sit well with someone who doesn’t feel pretty but is aching to go out with the cute girl at Starbucks or set up house with the handsome guy from work. But it’s one that “I Feel Pretty” handles with just enough humor, heart and substance to earn a passing grade.

“I Feel Pretty” stars comedian and actress Amy Schumer as Renee Barrett, a young woman with a few extra pounds and a debilitating sense of low self-esteem. Despite her best, bubbly efforts, Renee often has trouble getting people to pay attention to her or treat her with respect.

Renee works as the website manager of a large cosmetics corporation, Lily LeClaire. She dreams of working at the company’s headquarters, where all the beautiful people work, but she’s stuck in a dumpy offsite office with a computer geek who forgets to wear his pants to work.

Then the magic of the movies intervenes. As Renee is giving spin class the college try, she falls off her bike and hits her head. When she comes to, she looks in the mirror and sees her wishes have come true: she’s ripped!

Since the movie magic is only at play in Renee’s head, everyone else sees her as she’s always been. But Renee, who’s now free of the one thing that held her back, comes out of her shell.

Before long, she’s dating a nice guy and secured her dream job at Lily LeClaire. But a slender new body didn’t earn her these perks; rather, her boyfriend and employer were drawn to her vibrant, funny and clever personality.

Believe it or not, this simple, silly premise has whipped a number of movie bloggers into an angry froth. Some are upset because they think the film shames people who are overweight; others are outraged because they believe the movie says skinny people have no reason to be self-conscious. A writer for the New York Times said “I Feel Pretty” heralds “the rise of beauty-standard denialism.” (Huh?)

These folks are taking film too seriously or trying to show off their master’s degree. I don’t want to come across that way, but I do want to discuss one major niggle I have about “I Feel Pretty.”

As I already wrote, Schumer has only a few extra pounds. I could see a viewer who’s truly overweight taking issue with this.

To emphasize Renee’s unattractiveness, the filmmakers shot her without make-up, gave her a dumpy ‘do and outfitted her with loose-fitting, bargain bin clothes. That’s cheating.

After the movie magic happens and Renee puts on make-up, gets her hair done and slips into a colorful, form-fitting dress, she looks great. But since she hasn’t lost any weight, the people around her are required to continue to treat her like a subhuman. I didn’t buy it.

I bought everything else, though. From Schumer’s performance, to the humor, to the film’s message, “I Feel Pretty” works, even though the plot is paint-by-the-numbers predictable.

Until seeing “I Feel Pretty,” I was only familiar with Schumer’s R-rated movies and adults-only stand-up comedy. So, going in, I was expecting the same kind of irreverence, just at a PG-13 level.

But no. Schumer surprised me with not only good comedic timing but also a heartfelt, emotional performance.

When she looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what she sees, the expression on her face conveys all the pain Renee feels inside. (More than one blogger has railed against these scenes for “fat shaming.” I think they sensitively reflect what a lot of people feel when they look at themselves.)

Also, when Renee passionately makes her case for the job at Lily LeClaire, I almost called my editor and told him we needed to hire her before the cosmetics company snatched her up.

Schumer’s naughty alter ego does get to cut loose on occasion, including a scene involving a wet T-shirt contest, but she’s fun to watch in those moments, too.

Simply put, I’ve never been a fan of Schumer, but I really liked her in “I Feel Pretty” and hope she does more grounded, accessible work like this. Some comedians don’t have the acting chops to pull it off, but Schumer does.

The controversy surrounding “I Feel Pretty” has me wondering if some people wake up ready to be offended. It’s an earnest, funny movie with a corny but relevant message at its core. And Schumer comes into her own as an actress.

Surely there are real cinematic injustices out there for angry bloggers to target. Doesn’t Tyler Perry have a new movie in theaters?