Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
I Feel Pretty, starring Amy Schumer, premiered this weekend to reviews that were ... well, not stellar, although its current Rotten Tomatoes score of 33 percent belies the fact that the vast majority of these reviews weren’t total pans. But negative press around the rom-com is nothing new — indeed, I Feel Pretty has been brewing controversy ever since the first trailer dropped back in February.
Most of that initial criticism focused on film’s premise, which is this: Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer) is a deeply insecure web manager of a major beauty brand, where she’s surrounded by women like the beautiful and breathy-voiced CEO Avery LeClair (Michelle Williams), and spends her free time at SoulCycle, where she’s surrounded by hordes of super-fit Manhattanites. During one such class, she falls and hits her head, and when she comes to, she suddenly sees herself as a woman with supermodel good looks.
Let’s start with the case against that very premise.
The initial backlash
As soon as the trailer went live, people on Twitter were quick to point out the film’s problematic assumptions. The idea that Amy Schumer, a white, blonde, straight-size actress would have to hit her head in order to feel confident in her body is hard to swallow, yet even after said injury, it’s presumed that much of the humor comes from watching a woman with a body slightly larger than that of a typical Hollywood leading lady feel unapologetically proud of that body.
As Vulture noted, viewers would be forgiven for comparing the trailer to the fictitious 30 Rock sketch “Pam, the Overly Confident Morbidly Obese Woman.” But it’s a far cry from that, or from Shallow Hal, the deplorable 2001 film in which Gwyneth Paltrow dons a fat suit to give Jack Black a lesson in humility, which some people have likened it to ...
The case against I Feel Pretty
... which is not to say that I Feel Pretty is a particularly good film. What most of the reviews can agree on is that the premise is a lot less problematic than the actual execution, which is peppered with ham-fisted teachable moments, sappy staring-into-the-mirror scenes, and on-the-nose dialogue, all of which are clearly supposed to be moving statements on women’s relationships to their bodies but ending up stonewalling the “com” aspect of the rom-com.
The Ringer called it “content to be a feature-length Dove ad” with an “Instagram quote” ending. “This isn’t wrong, per se. It’s just, well, basic, and maybe a little disappointing, given the type of comedy that burnished Schumer’s legend.”
Vanity Fair described it as “cheesy, moralistic, and outdated,” while our sister site Vox noted that “a good message goes nowhere without a good movie.” The New York Times even pointed out that that “good message” might even be a little sinister: “The idea that a lack of self-confidence can be essentially bootstrapped away — that all we need to combat oppressive forces is the power of positive thinking and a flattering lipstick — is an exhausted, false fairy tale, one peddled by (among others!) self-help books, beauty companies and, disappointingly, movies like this one.”
After all, the final “uplifting” speech Renee makes in the movie literally ends up being the ad campaign for the beauty brand she works for.
The case for I Feel Pretty
On the other hand, it’s possible we’re all thinking a little too hard about what is mostly an enjoyable movie. Despite the (indeed, not good) script, the moments of seeming improvisation among the cast are delightful. Schumer, Rory Scovel, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps, and Sasheer Zamata are all excellent, although the surprise standout is Michelle Williams, who blows a rare comedic role out of the water.
Many of those cast members have been vocal defenders of the film, including Schumer herself, who gave an “as told to” piece to Bustle. “There are those who said my character shouldn’t feel insecure about her size,” she said. “But it’s not anyone’s place to tell someone whether or not they have a right to feel bad about themselves.”
“People just projected hard, and I understand why — it’s fucking hard to be a chick,” she continued. “We’ve all had so much pain and emotion attached to the portrayal of body image on-screen that people are ready to get mad.”
That’s partly because everything Schumer does seems to become a lightning rod for controversy, but much of the criticism is perhaps misdirected toward her because, unlike the generally well-received Trainwreck, Inside Amy Schumer, and her standup acts, Schumer wasn’t a writer on this film. Her ability to spark strong feelings in people is part of her talent, but it’s also made her someone whom many, many people would prefer to see fail.
And yes, most of the people who were upset by the trailer probably aren’t rushing to the theater to see the actual film, which leaves them with an unfair assumption about what it even is. And what it is is a comedy that takes itself a little too seriously, yet ultimately wants us to walk away feeling pretty ourselves. It’s difficult to get too riled up about that.