There are a lot of great things about I Feel Pretty — novel representations, a camera that treats its characters with dignity and respect (wow!), lots of laughs — but I can’t help but focus on a few majorly disappointing things first:
1. Diversity of characters: For a movie that hinges on breaking the mold of what is considered beautiful, it sadly underrepresents. The filmmakers obviously went to great lengths to include people of all kinds in the backgrounds and as side characters. It takes place in NYC so this diversity really rings true and gives the film an authentic feel. But that diversity is confined to THE BACKGROUND. The main characters are all white. Different hair color and body sizes, but all white. This feels like a huge missed opportunity for this movie. There are a lot of women of color in the roles of sexy background models, but don’t women of color of all sorts of body sizes deserve to be represented? Is it only the sexy black women that are screen-worthy? I’m just saying I think Amy Schumer’s character, Renee, could have had some non-white friends, love interests, or career mentors.
2. Weird connection to the fashion world: The plot of the film centers on Renee’s insecurities and her dream of being a part of a high-end fashion company. The company is working to promote a line of affordable beauty products and Renee seems to have expertise into the lives of “normal” people(aka non-super models).These ties fit thematically but there is a weird product placement situation where the characters mention Target like 15 times per scene — connecting Target with the film concept of the “normal” woman. Honestly this might have been completely funded as a Target ad for all I know. At one point Renee stops a beautiful woman on the street to compliments her dressing the girl immediately tells her it’s from Target. SoulCycle is also a pushed product — as the place where Renee finds her magical confidence at the beginning of the film and a more grounded confidence at the end.
I could have gotten past all of this except that the whole movie is about women having the confidence to be themselves, so the storyline about selling “normal” women things they don’t actually need seems anti-thematic. It feels like a missed opportunity to connect some larger ideas about consumerism in the age of social media/constant comparison culture. The climax of the film finds Renee rediscovering her confidence at the launch of the new “normal person” beauty campaign. She makes an impassioned speech (to a room full of models & two normies) about the beauty of all people and the different ways it can shine through. The only problem? Her empowerment is directly linked to consumerism and the need to buy things to be empowered. The fact that the entire movie reads like an ad pushes this concept of empowerment through sales and sales through empowerment. It feels cheap.
Despite these glaring flaws, the film was actually really funny, relatable, and body positive. A lot of that has to do with the way it was shot, which I attribute to the female influence of co-director Abby Kohn. There were two main ways this element of dignity and positivity shine through:
1. A respectful gaze: The camera doesn’t linger on women’s bodies (petite or bigger) but it also doesn’t attempt to hide their flaws. There are a few shots of small women’s bodies as Renee looks on longingly, but for the most part, the camera treats the model-types as human beings who have full bodies, not just legs, abs, or boobs. There are no slow tilts up their frames, or disembodied boob shots here! The camera also doesn’t attempt to crop out non-supermodel elements. It allows Renee’s body to be seen — the “extra” skin on the arms; the non-flat stomach — not in a disembodied way that focuses your eyes to her self-described “flaws,” but in a way that allows these elements to exist as they do in real life: as part of human bodies.
2. Reflections on Hollywood: There is a really interesting duality that emerges as you watch the character Renee on her journey to self-confidence because you can’t help but equate her experience to real-life actress Amy Schumer. It is, after all, Schumer’s actual body that the camera captures — a body that is quite different than most leading ladies’ in Hollywood. As Renee explores her new-found confidence, her non-Hollywood size is often used for laughs — not in a gross or judgmental way but in a way that pokes fun at the stupid, arbitrary ways the “perfect body” has been portrayed and idealized. It also shines through as Schumer’s own confidence and the ways she has had to navigate the film world to find a place for herself in an industry that see’s her as out-of-place.
If I Feel Pretty had taken its representation one step further and included non-white depictions of “non-beauty” alongside Schemer (and ditched the over-the-top product plugs), it would feel like a real 2018 masterpiece. As it stands, it is a progressive step towards Hollywood inclusion. Is it a work of art? Not by any means. But am I happy it exists in an industry (and genre) dominated by binary depictions of attractiveness? Very much so.