“I Feel Pretty” comes to us as a movie with a message: love yourself, that’s what makes you attractive. It utterly fails at that message, but it does give us quite a lot to consider. We are able to examine the psychology of its star, Amy Schumer. If Schumer has a therapist, they’d have a field day with this film as they try to figure out how their very rich client hates herself so much that she is willing to make a movie where the only joke is that she is ugly. Anyone can hate themself enough to tear into their appearance for two agonizing hours, but it takes a special kind of self loathing to actually spend time, money and talent to produce a movie about it.
Schumer plays Renee Bennett, a low level worker at a cosmetics company headed by Michelle Williams (who somehow remains as great as ever). But unfortunately, we get some jokes at the expense of her large Hispanic officemate and their tiny Chinatown, Los Angeles basement office. It’s all so vaguely racist and classist that the movie puts a bad taste in our mouths before it even begins.
While at SoulCycle (one of many notable product placements), Renee hits her head in a fall from her bike and when she wakes up, she looks at herself in the mirror in awe. She’s finally pretty! But we know that she still looks like Schumer, who is apparently ugly in the world of this movie. And then we watch variations of that joke for the next two wasted hours.
The classist sexism that this movie basically flaunts also deserves note. A major plot element is that Michelle Williams is trying to sell a new makeup product even for women who shop at (gasp!) Target Corporation. But don’t worry, with the perspective provided by ugly ol’ Renee, she’ll be able to sell women a product they don’t need. Not once does someone question the morality of this industry. Maybe a society less obsessed with consumerism wouldn’t reduce women to nothing but their physical appearance so they can be sold something to alter their bodies. Michelle Williams isn’t really a villain because she’s out of touch, but because she runs a business that requires self loathing to function. A movie that treats her in any other light, like this one, deserves moral contempt.
The fact that Schumer being ugly is so bankable that studios would center an entire movie on it is thought provoking. What point are we at in hyperreality when an average looking person is considered so foul? What does it mean for us, as a society, that a movie can put no effort into creating characters and still be expected to make money?
Many of these issues could be solved by simply making the characters… characters. It’s difficult to make characters seem human in any movie, so even that small decency is too much to ask here. But let them at least be characters – let them actually grow instead of do a stupid “I’ve learned something important” arc that we have seen over and over again. Let them actually do jobs, not just vaguely work a reception desk or behind a computer. Let them have thoughts and feelings and vulnerabilities that don’t directly relate to the plot. Not once did someone in this movie do something that made me want to be around them. In fact, most of what they did made me feel vaguely unhappy. I thought of the opening of “The Social Network,” where Rooney Mara memorably tells Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg, “You’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd…That won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.” I feel, with a few adaptations, she could be talking to this aggressively bad movie.