In my statistics class, I teach about something called “the rejection region”. In order to help my classes remember what it’s is called, I tell them that the Rejection Region is where I lived in high school. It always gets a reaction. Every time. They want to laugh, and some of them do, but others are afraid to. They can’t believe that I would make myself the butt of such a brutal joke. But what they don’t understand is that I’m comfortable with it. I’m bad with women. It’s just the truth. That’s part of my experience – part of who I am. But it’s not all of who I am. I’m much more than that. And I refuse to take myself so seriously that I can’t laugh at myself. In I Feel Pretty, Amy Schumer refuses to take herself seriously in order to send a message to an increasingly judgmental and insecure society.
2018 has been a pretty great year for comedies. Thus far, we’ve seen the likes of Game Night, Love, Simon, and most recently Blockers not only deliver on the laughs but also manage to and be socially relevant by engaging in meaningful discussions, at the same time. The modern comedy is now both funny and quality filmmaking. Now, from co-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, comes the latest one-two-punch hopeful in the form of I Feel Pretty. In the wake of comedies dealing with family issues, crises of identity and acceptance, and modern sexuality, this particular film addresses societal superficiality as Schumer fearlessly steps up to the plate to make herself the butt of the joke and make a point that needs to be made to most people on a daily basis.
If I’ve learned anything by being online for the last five or so years (I’ve been online for more than five years. This particular trend only appeared to become prevalent over the last five years.), it’s that people are going to complain about this movie no matter the actual message of the film or the intent of the filmmakers. It may be hard to believe, but people on the Internet take themselves extremely seriously. I want this to be clear: no matter what anybody wants to believe in order to fit their own personal Negative Nancy narrative, this film is in no way applauding the judgment of others based solely on their appearance. Kohn, Silverstein, Schumer, and all others involved in the production are aiming to do the exact opposite.
It’s important to note that acknowledging and addressing the fact that society seems to judge others based on perceived physical beauty is not the same as condoning it. Schumer is confident enough to take on the role of Renee and acknowledge that she likely isn’t what many would define as traditionally “beautiful” (or whatever word you wish to use. I’m really not comfortable using any word there, but I need to state this to make my own point.). And she does so with a self-deprecating sense of humor. I tend to shy away from people without self-deprecating senses of humor. I do so because self-deprecation is often a sign of extreme confidence, not the other way around. And if someone can’t make fun of themselves, it’s very likely that they aren’t a whole lot of fun to be around. (They might get elected president, though, so bully for them!)
So, Schumer has some fun at her own expense, but she and the film also poke fun at those on the other side of the table. Yes, there are characters in the film who don’t subscribe to the moral of the story, but they aren’t portrayed in a flattering fashion. And, at times, neither is Renee. The film’s message actually becomes a bit muddled during the second act and I couldn’t determine if the viewer was supposed to be focusing on being more accepting of others, more accepting of themselves, or perhaps both. And does the film consider the two to be the same? For a period, Renee gets caught up in her illusion and transitions from being relatable and endearing to being completely unlikable. I understand that the idea is that there is a thin line between those who are tremendously insecure about their appearance and the ones from whom the insecure seek approval, but the middle of the film left me wondering whose side I was supposed to be on.
Despite this, Schumer remains committed to the part, throwing herself into it with wholehearted vigor. Michelle Williams also shows us a different side, which I found to be a fun change of pace for her. The actual humor (this is a comedy, after all) is generally hit-and-miss, but tending towards the middle; the hits aren’t usually home runs but the misses aren’t total strike-outs, either. You’ll likely get a steady stream of chuckles, but few involuntary belly laughs.
The film strives to tell us that it doesn’t matter how anyone looks; we’re all human with insecurities, weaknesses, and a history of failures. The goal is to use all of that negativity as a learning tool and to focus on our unique strengths. Don’t go through life riding a wave of false confidence; discover an internal source of authentic confidence based on who you are and not who you think others want you to be. It’s a worthy message, but it gets a bit lost in the haphazard structuring of the film. Kohn, Silverstein, and Schumer have crafted a well-meaning work with some high spots but, when compared to the other recent comedies I mentioned towards the beginning of this review, one that ultimately falls short in both laughs and execution. A lack of specific focus somewhat derails the message so that we’re left with a mostly entertaining enigma instead of the desired cinematic anthem for the insecure.
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