"I FEEL PRETTY" — 2½ stars — Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel, Busy Philipps, Emily Ratajkowski; PG-13 (sexual content, some partial nudity and language); in general release
Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein's "I Feel Pretty" uses a curious idea to send a worthwhile message but stumbles on some messy execution.
The message is that confidence is attractive. The messenger is Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer), an awkward young woman who desperately wants to be beautiful. Renee works in the online division of a major cosmetics company called Lily LeClaire, but she aspires to work at the front desk of the company's prestigious corporate offices.
Opportunity comes knocking quite literally when, during a spin class, Renee falls off her bike and suffers a concussion that leaves her thinking she has the looks of a supermodel. Convinced she is the beneficiary of some kind of magic, she starts behaving with more confidence and things start falling in line for her. She starts dating a guy she meets at a dry cleaner named Ethan (Rory Scovel) and even lands the receptionist job at Lily LeClaire.
Confidence is only part of the equation, though, at least when it comes to her new job. Lily LeClaire is just about to release a "diffusion" line of its cosmetics for the common woman, and when company executive Avery (Michelle Williams) meets Renee, she senses a unique connection to her target demographic.
But all the good news comes with a downside. Thanks to her new confidence — and her new associations at work — Renee begins to treat her longtime friends Jane (Busy Philipps) and Vivian (Aidy Bryant) poorly. And right as she strikes up a relationship with Ethan, Avery's dashing brother Grant (Tom Hopper) starts tempting her to cheat.
The basic message of the movie becomes apparent early on, which is good, because the story seems ill constructed to support it. For one, the setup infers that Renee's self-esteem is simple delusion and entirely conditional on the lasting effects of her injury. This leads to a messy third act that has to sort out a variety of knotted plot threads while preserving its uplifting message.
The bigger issue is that Schumer's performance feels uneven and not all that different between her "before injury" and "after injury" characters. After her concussion, half the time Renee's behavior is over-the-top and delusional, but the other half of the time she's just acting like a normal, well-adjusted, confident woman, not all that far from her pre-injury character. "I Feel Pretty" wants to be wacky and grounded at the same time, and the result is just too muddled.
As a comedy, "I Feel Pretty" does feature a handful of good laughs — and some jokes that fall flat — but in spite of her inconsistencies, Schumer comes across as a likeable heroine in her more reserved moments. For all its problems, the film should resonate with anyone — male or female — who has ever felt agitated with the shallow realities of the dating scene.
Early in the film, Schumer's character stands in front of a mirror, glaring at herself with a jarring look of blatant self-loathing. It's a painfully honest moment, maybe too honest for a comedy like this. But it shows that in the middle of the chaos, "I Feel Pretty" understands its audience.
"I Feel Pretty" is rated PG-13 for sexual content, some partial nudity and language; running time: 110 minutes.