Like Amy Schumer's character, I Feel Pretty has a lot going for it. But when Renee goes off the rails, so does the movie. It's such a pleasant surprise until then, so this bizarre detour keeps it from being a solid recommendation.
There were so many ways the film could have gone wrong, especially if it came across as phony. While some critics have felt that way, I think the film truly believes in its empowering message. That's not the problem, and neither is Schumer. Her semi-autobiographical Trainwreck was her featured debut, which provided the perfect showcase for her gifts. Snatched was too zany to totally work, but I Feel Pretty is another reminder that she's a comedic force of nature, and a pretty good actress to boot. (There's an early scene where Renee strips down and looks at herself in the mirror, and without a word conveys how disgusted she feels with her own body, a place we've all been. It's so effective it proves Schumer should try more dramas.)
Renee spends her days in a cramped basement office with Mason (Adrian Martinez, given more to do than usual), working on the website for a luxury cosmetics brand. But a rare chance to visit its 5th Avenue headquarters inspires her to apply for a receptionist job, usually reserved for rail-thin models-in-waiting.
Here's where the film walks a tightrope, because while Schumer certainly isn't a Size 0, she's certainly not beyond what society would deem "conventionally attractive." The film makes it work because Renee is imbued with magical self-confidence, but experiences no physical changes. Her determination and positivity are what catch the attention of the CEO (Michelle Williams, who proves she should be doing more comedy) and her strapping brother (Game of Thrones' Tom Hopper).
But the film is at its best when it's developing the relationship between Renee and Ethan (Rory Scovell, rocking the dad bod). Their romance feels authentic, and their chemistry feels genuine.
So when the film sags in its third act, turning Renee into the same vain, condescending woman who would ordinarily dismiss Renee and her friends (Busy Philipps and Aidy Bryant), it feels like an out-of-nowhere plot contrivance. The earnest-if-corny finale would still have its weight, even without suddenly making Renee a villain.
I Feel Pretty is the directorial debut of writing duo Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who are clearly showing maturity in their more recent films. 2016's How to Be Single was similarly charming, even if it had some big flaws. But these two efforts are miles beyond the disastrous He's Just Not That into You and the mawkish The Vow. Maybe they'll learn more lessons from I Feel Pretty and their next romantic comedy will make it all work.