Friday, April 20, 2018

I Feel Pretty: Sweet self-empowerment saga

I Feel Pretty (2018) • View trailer 
3.5 stars. Rated PG-13, for fleeting nudity, sexual candor and profanity

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.20.18

Here’s a nice surprise.

Few actors could rebound so successfully from a bomb the size of last year’s Snatched, but Amy Schumer has managed a reasonably graceful landing.

Believing that their chances of scoring online dates will increase if they tackle the problem
en masse, Vivian (Aidy Bryant, left), Jane (Busy Philipps) and Renee (Amy Schumer)
strike a pose for a group selfie.
I Feel Pretty blends (mostly) gentle romantic comedy with a well-delivered message on the importance of self-worth: of being not merely resigned to the hand one has been dealt, but celebrating it, each and every day. That’s a valuable lesson in an era when, everywhere we look, we’re encouraged to emulate — nay, become — akin to the media-splashed icons of physical perfection who surround us.

An impossible task. And one that can’t help feeding natural insecurities.

High fives, then, to Schumer and the writing/directing team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, for concocting such a (mostly) delightful rebuttal to such nonsense.

(The “mostly” applies because Schumer indulges in occasional bits of needless vulgarity that — in each case — briefly bring the film to a screeching halt. Apparently she can’t help herself.)

New Yorker Renee Bennett (Schumer) lives each day beneath a hovering cloud of low self-esteem and minimal expectations, convinced that she’s not “good enough” to share space with those who invariably seem to be something “better.” Such feelings are exacerbated by her job: toiling mostly unseen in a basement server room as one of two employees who handle Internet orders for cosmetic giant Lily LeClair’s upscale Fifth Avenue headquarters.

Renee shares this grimy garret with the misanthropic Mason (Adrian Martinez, an understated hoot), who — were he asked — probably prefers such surroundings.

Down time is spent with best buds Jane (Busy Philipps) and Vivian (Aidy Bryant); they collectively view themselves as three musketeers mounting frequent assaults on dating web sites ... never breaking past the outer ramparts.

And everywhere Renee goes — whether spin class at SoulCycle, or infrequent visits to Lily LeClair HQ — she’s all but invisible to the beautiful people who surround her. With one exception: Mallory (Emily Ratajkowski), who, despite being a flawless model like so many others, is a genuine human being with both heart and soul.

No surprise, then, that Renee — at a despairing low point — impulsively makes a big, tall wish (after seeing the similar moment while catching up with the movie Big).

The status quo shifts shortly thereafter, following a minor accident and a bump on Renee’s noggin. She wakens with a most unusual disorder: When looking in a mirror, she suddenly sees an idealized version of herself — an image of supermodel-esque “beauty” — that she always dreamed of, in her wildest private fantasies. And believes it to be true.

To their credit, Kohn and Silverstein never put a specific image to this miracle; they don’t cheat with a CGI-enhanced “gorgeous babe” version of Schumer. What Renee sees is left to our imagination, which is as it should be.

Emboldened by her belief that she has become this stunning, best-possible version of herself, Renee attacks the world with a self-assurance and charisma she never felt before. And, because she projects such confidence — oblivious to the raised eyebrows and gape-jawed disbelief of those unaccustomed to seeing such poise in a, well, regular schlub — she wins everybody over through sheer effervescence. 

What a lovely, wonderful, valuable lesson this is.

But the instructive elements of Kohn and Silverstein’s script don’t stop there. As matters progresses, Renee becomes so comfortable — in the rarefied world that she now inhabits — that she begins to adopt the dismissive, condescending behavior of the shallow people who once ignored her.

Which is why Jane and Vivian remain an important part of the story: thankfully, because this gives the otherwise underused Philipps and Bryant something to do. Both actresses are far too talented to be short-shrifted by the under-developed characters with which this script saddles them.

Happily, other supporting players are treated better. Michelle Williams is hilarious as Lily Le Clair CEO Avery LeClair, whose poise and accomplishments — lawyer, holder of a Wharton MBA, corporate head — are undercut by a breathy, high-pitched voice that would be more at home coming from a cartoon character. This “flaw” renders her as insecure, in her own way, as Renee once was (which, of course, is precisely the point).

Rory Scovel is adorably mundane as Ethan, a laid-back, stay-out-of-the-way sort who never feels like he fits into a boys’ club, despite being a guy himself (an affectation that Renee finds endearing, as do we). Scovel is genial, kind and unassuming: a fellow who, as introduced, clearly is intelligent but doesn’t seem to comprehend the “handshakes” necessary to get ahead in life. In other words, somebody else who’s not entirely comfortable in his own skin.

In a clever stroke of casting, Lauren Hutton plays Avery’s grandmother Lily, founder of their company: a matriarch who never forgot what it’s like to be a run-of-the-mill person. The ocean-colored walls at Lily LeClair are laden with luxurious photographs of Hutton, from various stages of her actual modeling career: nice touch, that.

Naomi Campbell pops up as one of Avery’s numerous consultants; Tom Hopper moves gracefully through his brief scenes as Avery’s (somewhat) kinder playboy brother Grant.

A sharply perceptive and equally welcome sidebar story concerns the Vogue-esque cosmetic firm’s planned entry into the budget realm: a marketing maneuver dubbed “Diffusion” because Avery and her immaculate dressed, perfectly coifed and (at times) ludicrously over-painted colleagues would choke on their nonfat Splenda cinnamon chestnut praline lattes before uttering the phrase “Target shoppers.”

Production designer William O. Hunter has fun with Lily LeClair’s overly chi-chi offices, and the basement workspace Renee initially shares with Mason will be familiar to anyone who ever had to jam a desk between banks of servers.

Michael Andrews’ score is all but unheard behind the too-frequent application of power ballads such as Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” Santigold’s “Can’t Get Enough of Myself,” Tove Lo’s “Cool Girl” and many, many others.

But such surface gloss never detracts from this film’s all-important indictment against body-shaming, along with Schumer’s sunny, always refreshing belief — which bursts from the screen — that we gotta make the most of what we have, and be comfortable with it, and the hell with anybody who sneers along the way.

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