Amy Schumer has a long history of poking fun at the way she looks and the ways in which even unattractive men demand perfection in women.
In 2015, she devoted an entire episode of her Comedy Central sketch series to an elaborate parody of “12 Angry Men” in which jurors — including Jeff Goldblum, Paul Giamatti, John Hawkes and Kumail Nanjiani — deliberated whether Schumer was attractive enough to be on television.
The episode earned Giamatti an Emmy nomination and helped “Inside Amy Schumer” take home its only Emmy for outstanding variety sketch series.
So why did that resonate in ways that “I Feel Pretty” — in which Schumer “Shallow Hals” herself into thinking she’s supermodel hot — doesn’t?
For starters, Schumer co-wrote that episode, and it was more of an indictment of the idiocy of men. In “I Feel Pretty,” written and directed by the “How to Be Single” duo of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, Schumer’s Renee Bennett is a sad, damaged woman who’s convinced life only matters if you’re beautiful.
Also, the sketch lasted 20 minutes. “I Feel Pretty” slogs in at 110.
Renee’s life is a series of disappointments. She’s spent the past six years toiling away in a Chinatown basement running the online division of cosmetics giant Lily LeClair. She visits a boutique only to be told, “Sizing is a little limited here, but you can probably find your size online.” And during her first trip to SoulCycle, her bike collapses beneath her.
Desperate to know how it feels to be “undeniably pretty,” Renee takes a break from watching “Big” during a thunderstorm to make a wish while tossing a coin into a fountain. But it isn’t until a second gruesome SoulCycle injury that she regains consciousness and believes she looks toned, fit and stunning — even though to everyone else, she’s exactly the same.
Overflowing with self-confidence, Renee soon moves from the basement to the reception desk at Lily LeClair’s Fifth Avenue offices and, eventually, into the inner circle of socialite CEO Avery LeClair (Michelle Williams). Against her every instinct, Avery is being pressured by her grandmother, Lily (Lauren Hutton), into bringing their elitist brand to Target and Kohl’s, the latter of which Avery manages to stretch into a three-syllable word.
Williams, a four-time Oscar nominee, has never been known for her comedic chops, but her against-type turn as Avery — who’s overly botoxed, perpetually confused and appears emaciated in a special effects way, like a pre-super-soldier-serum Steve Rogers in the first “Captain America” — is a revelation. Her voice, something like a chipmunk with vocal fry drowning in a vat of mayonnaise, is “I Feel Pretty’s” greatest comic invention.
Renee meets a guy (Rory Scovel, “Inside Amy Schumer”) at the dry cleaners, where she befuddles and slightly terrifies him into going out with her. He has absolutely no idea what to make of her when, on a date, Renee enters a bikini contest and writhes around on the floor, pouring water on herself, and showing as much skin as possible. The scene is intended to be a howl, because Schumer obviously doesn’t look like the other entrants, with their long legs and tiny waists. But the effect is more mean-spirited and cruel, like that Chris Farley Chippendales sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”
I’m not suggesting Schumer is being taken advantage of. She knew exactly what she signed on for. But unlike her debut, “Trainwreck,” Schumer didn’t write this material, and she doesn’t have director/producer Judd Apatow looking out for her.
Several of the scenes in which Renee tries to convince her friends (Busy Phillips, Aidy Bryant) not to freak out over her “new” appearance are quite funny. But too often, the “jokes” are at Schumer’s expense as she acts far sexier than she’s supposed to look. The problem is, those scenes demand someone far less attractive. Schumer doesn’t even bother to deglam.
Despite a final-act empowerment statement, “I Feel Pretty” is a meandering comedy with a troubling message that’s all about hating who you are unless you’re gorgeous.
And may God help the self-esteem of the millions of women out there who would be thrilled to look like Amy Schumer.
A movie called “I Feel Pretty” should never feel this ugly.