Outlandish comedy draws on her brash persona

As a stand-up comic and TV series star, Amy Schumer has created a unique and compelling persona as a woman who embraces herself as she is. She successfully translated her brash, more-than-slightly-naughty image to the movie screen with the 2015 hit Trainwreck. After a disappointing sophomore effort in Snatched (in what seemed like a dream pairing with Goldie Hawn), she’s now back in a contemporary romantic comedy, I Feel Pretty. The question for many of her fans (and her critics) is: Can Schumer find film vehicles that capitalize on her comedic strengths without the movies becoming overwhelmed by her personality or repetitive attempts to showcase what works?

In some ways, Amy Schumer reminds me of Robin Williams, an audacious stage performer whose cinematic performances were often hit-or-miss, as directors and screenwriters struggled to capture his manic essence in a way that didn’t overpower or derail the movie. Schumer doesn’t have the same over-the-top energy as Williams, but she does have an appealing stage presence that can be difficult to wedge into a conventional movie story.

I Feel Pretty, for the most part, plays to Schumer’s strengths. Where it misses is in a screenplay that wants to have it both ways.

Schumer plays Renee Bennett, a schlubby, lonely web technician for a high fashion magazine who is completely demoralized by her less-than-stellar physical appearance. The opening credits sequence smartly if painfully captures the daily put-downs and slights that overweight, unattractive people face during the average day. Even her attempts at self-improvement (in the form of a SoulCycle class) end in humiliation. At the end of the day, Renee retreats to the solace of her girlfriends, Vivian (SNL’s Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps). 

A freak accident at her next SoulCycle class results in a concussion for the hapless Miss Bennett, but when she awakes, some inexplicably crossed wiring in her brain convinces her that she is a drop-dead knock-out and svelte…which, of course, she is not. Buoyed by this miracle, Renee develops (or perhaps taps into) the confidence that she has previously lacked and becomes the take-charge woman she has always aspired to be. She finds a boyfriend, wins a job she really wanted as receptionist for her magazine employer, and even becomes an informal adviser to the flighty magazine editor played by Michelle Williams. Of course, in moviedom, this can’t last, and the rest of the movie deals with how Renee copes when her delusion goes away.

Schumer, who freely admits to being an outlier in image-conscious Hollywood, adopts the confident Renee with gusto, showing some of the same devil-may-care attitude of the actress’ own life. Unfortunately for the film, the screenplay, by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (who also co-direct), can’t decide what it thinks about its characters. At times, it makes fun of the unattractive people and then switches and bashes the beautiful. We revel in Renee’s new confidence, but we also groan when she drops her friends and becomes a shallow stereotype of the gorgeous. The ping-ponging perspectives make it hard to truly admire the lead character.

Schumer manages both aspects of Renee with her typical acerbic charm, and carries the viewer even when the screenplay lets her down. Michelle Williams is both funny and endearing as a fashion magazine editor and model with an incredibly high-pitched and annoying voice. Newcomer Rory Scovel plays Renee’s boyfriend affably. Lauren Hutton makes a brief appearance as the magazine’s founder. Sadly, with the focus so tight on Schumer’s Renee, the rest of the cast, though game, suffers from underdeveloped, clichéd roles.

Although entertaining, I Feel Pretty still disappoints in the end. Perhaps the only way for Schumer to truly shine in the movies is for her to write her own material, as she did with Trainwreck. She, and the audience, deserve better.

Coming in May: Overboard—Anna Faris in a remake spin of the Goldie Hawn film, May 4; Terminal—a neo-noir thriller starring Margot Robbie and Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers), May 11; Deadpool Sequel (still untitled at press time)—the return of Marvel’s snarkiest superhero with Ryan Reynolds, May 18, and Solo: A Stars Wars Story, Han’s origin story, May 25.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.