A positive message, even if its delivery is corny.
It’s fair to say that Amy Schumer’s work is usually pretty much synonymous with ‘rude’, ‘shocking’ and ‘explicit’. It is surprising, then, when I heard that I Feel Pretty was only rated 12A. It’s likely that the film’s main theme, body positivity and self-acceptance, is the reason why she exhibits here a more toned-down sense of humour: this is a message that Kohn and Silverstein (writers/directors) want everyone to be able to hear.
The delivery of this message was nonetheless cause for controversy even before the film was released. After seeing the trailer some people accused I Feel Pretty of spreading the dangerous message that the idea of a woman who looks like Schumer believing she is beautiful is so ridiculous it’s comical. I’ll admit that I myself was ready to come out of the cinema and write a negative review. However, after actually seeing the film I’d argue that these criticisms don’t hold up. Comedy in I Feel Pretty arises from Renee (Schumer’s character) being relatable and from the audacious things she does once she gains confidence rather than just the farce of a so-called ‘un-pretty’ woman thinking she is pretty. In fact, it is obsession with looks and attractiveness that is presented as so ridiculous as to be comical. The audience laughs at, not with, those who judge based on appearance. What’s more, the audience identifies with Renee because they are not perfect, like her, and ultimately they end up wanting to be like her. I went to see this film with my mum (so thank God for its lack of Schumer’s usual vulgarity) and by fifteen minutes in we had both said ‘that would be me’ or ‘that’s so me’ to each other at least three times. By the end of the film the message that it’s okay, nay good, for these things to be ‘so’ you is clear.
My biggest disappointment was that I actually found the delivery of this message a bit too cloying. Whilst self-love and inner-beauty is an extremely important theme it is explored here in a very corny, on-the-nose, way. At the end of the film Renee makes a big speech and there are so many cutesy reunions between friends, relatives and romantic partners that it’s hard to keep a track of. Renee’s love interest Ethan even tells her that she is the ‘most beautiful girl in the world’. Kohn and Silverstein are trying to redefine ‘beautiful’ but I do wonder why, by the end of the film, we need that word at all. Couldn’t he have just said that she was ‘incredible’, ‘charming’, ‘intelligent’, ‘extraordinary’ or ‘impressive’? I understand that here ‘beautiful’ is supposed to stand for all of these things rather than just looks but sometimes it’s nice to give weight to these words so that we can understand how important they are on their own. Overall, the film falls into the pitfall traps of stereotypes and cliches in its overt messaging; for this to have been a game-changing film it would have required a lot more subtlety.
The thing is, though, I don’t think this is meant to be a game-changing film. I think it’s meant to be funny and empowering and it is ultimately both of these things. It speaks to the film’s credit that everyone I talked to about I Feel Pretty before seeing it told me they loved it and that I would love it too. In this sense it seems that Kohn and Silverstein have at least managed to get their message out there.
I Feel Pretty (2018), directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, is distributed by STX Films, Certificate 12A.