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Movie Review: Amy Schumer's 'I Feel Pretty' Doesn't Believe Its Own Message


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The morning after I saw Amy Schumer's new comedy, I clicked through the day's paperless paper and found something that left me speechless. Critic Manohla Dargis had just seen the movie, too, and somehow managed to produce 1,100 words on it.

Coming up with 1,100 words on something as insipid or, as Dargis so perfectly put it, "seriously suboptimal" as I Feel Pretty is a mind-boggling feat — the critical equivalent of a magician sliding a mile of colorful handkerchiefs from a sleeve. How'd she do it? Let's have a look.

Oh, clever. She begins with a rehash of Schumer's Comedy Central series and the two previous movies in which she's starred — her 2015 breakout, Trainwreck, and her 2017 dud, Snatched. That's good for a couple hundred words.

Dealing with the comic's new dud, Dargis resorts to a classic film critic tactic, the Detailed Plot Description, to fill space. Schumer, we're informed, stars as Renee Bennett, a woman who suffers from low self-esteem and, coincidentally, works for Lily LeClaire, a manufacturer of beauty products.

You've seen the ads, so you know what sets the story in motion. No, not the first SoulCycle accident it shows — the one in which Renee impales herself on her bike. I'm not sure why that's even there. Probably because this is the directorial debut of cowriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who, I'm guessing, have dirt on someone high up at studio STXfilms.

No, the plot starts with Renee's second wipeout, when she hits her head, looks in the mirror and is stunned to see she's ... stunning! The joke, of course, is that nothing has changed. Renee's new beauty is in the eye of exactly one beholder: Renee.

Something of a conceptual mess, the movie conflates appearance and attitude. Believing she's drop-dead gorgeous, Renee finds the nerve to tell people to drop dead. She's a monster of confidence, bowling over everyone at Lily LeClaire with big ideas, including the CEO.

She's played by a dreadfully miscast Michelle Williams, inexplicably speaking in a nails-on-chalkboard squeak as grating as it is distracting. Dargis evidently was driven so crazy she praised the performance. Doctors expect a full recovery.

Predictably, Renee's ego boost leads to the snagging of a great guy (Rory Scovel), a promotion and another knock to the noggin. You can guess where that leads.

Dargis incorrectly claims the picture never suggests that "thinner is better." It does. When Renee gets her mental makeover, for example, she caresses the contours of the transformed body she "sees," ecstatically outlining thighs half their actual width. Encountering svelte models, she uses phrases such as "girls like us." Schumer herself makes this false claim in interviews given to quell the picture's prerelease backlash.

I Feel Pretty is a message movie that doesn't believe its own message. It pretends a positive attitude is all it takes to succeed in a society that prioritizes looks, but it practically winks. More problematically, it's a comedy that largely fails to be funny.

It's all been downhill for the comic since Trainwreck, the one film she wrote herself. If Schumer's latest has anything to say, it's that it's time for her to dig deep and remind fans what made her so appealing in the first place. Everything she needs to turn things around is inside Amy Schumer.

The original print version of this article was headlined "I Feel Pretty 2"