Just like in the movies, her wish comes true – at least in the sense that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Knocked unconscious while working out at SoulCycle, she wakes to find herself transformed from an ugly duckling into a swan. Or so she believes: from everyone else's viewpoint, she's the same as ever, though her loyal friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps) offer her the validation they have all along.
Convinced of her irresistibility, Renee now has the confidence to chase her dreams, picking up an alarmed but quickly enraptured boyfriend (Rory Scovel) and rising through the ranks at the fancy make-up company Lily LeClair (her boss is played by Michelle Williams, allowed to be funny for once as an anxious sylph who sounds like Jennifer Tilly and acts like Andy Warhol).
Any film openly concerned with physical attractiveness – who has it, who doesn't – is guaranteed to hit a nerve. While I Feel Pretty evidently views itself as progressive, a case can be made that its premise is flawed, if not downright offensive: if a star like Schumer can be presented as unattractive, what does that say about the rest of us?
But this misses a couple of points. One, that any competent actor can convey a lack of glamour with the right costumes and make-up; and two, that Renee's real problem isn't her appearance but her punishingly low self-esteem.
All that said, there's plenty of room for interpretation. I Feel Pretty is plainly a message movie, but part of the fun is that we're given multiple messages to choose from. Some scenes appear to be saying that beautiful people have it as tough as anyone else – though Renee scoffs at this notion when it's proposed by her slender workout buddy (Emily Ratajkowski).
Perhaps the desire to view oneself as beautiful is a neurosis to be overcome.
Another possible implication is that if you truly believe in your own beauty, others will too. But this is likewise undercut: the primary superpower Renee gains from her refurbished self-image is the ability to stay cheerfully oblivious to the bemused responses of those around her. Setting aside the bump-on-the-head gimmick, I Feel Pretty could easily be understood as a story about mental illness, with much of Renee's extravagant behaviour – like flashing the neighbours from her apartment window – resembling textbook mania, to be followed by an inevitable slide into depression.
The film's fixation on beauty can also be seen as a disguised way of tackling the even more delicate subject of class – though the waters are muddied by the pretence that looks, wealth and sophistication always go hand in hand. Thrown into the world of high fashion, Renee maintains the aspirational vulgarity typified by her cursive name necklace and her use of phrases like “so blessed", but also her everywoman common sense, which serves as a corrective to the elitism at Lily LeClair.
Fuelled as it is by good intentions, I Feel Pretty is possibly less in tune with the zeitgeist than its creators might have hoped for. All the same, there are some remarkable moments – like the scene of Renee gazing mesmerised at her legs in hideous blue tracksuit pants, falling in love with her body for the first time.
One of the film's strengths is its ambivalence about how far we should envy her sudden, excessive self-delight. Perhaps the desire to view oneself as beautiful is, indeed, a neurosis to be overcome. But if we abandoned the idea that narcissism can be sexy, there wouldn't be much point to Hollywood.
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