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The actress has been building toward a performance like I Feel Pretty since she got in front of the camera with her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer and expanded upon her image with studio vehicles like Trainwreck and Snatched. Established as a high-energy entertainer in the stand-up scene for years before breaking out in TV and film, Schumer now has a role that’s emblematic of her down-to-Earth charisma and open-book storytelling. Her talent can be seen across an impressive range of comedy and drama in I Feel Pretty, a warm rom-com about loving yourself, first and foremost.
In the new film, written by first-time co-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, Schumer plays a New Yorker who begins to see herself as beautiful after a head-trauma mishap at an exercise class. The central hook of the story is that Schumer’s Renee hasn’t changed in appearance at all, despite how she re-introduces herself to her friends (played by Busy Phillips and Aidy Bryant) as if she were completely unrecognizable, and carries herself with more confidence in a workplace full of models and women like Michelle Williams’ Avery. Throughout, Schumer creates natural magic out of the character, while maintaining her sharp eye for good satire.
Before I Feel Pretty, the comedian could be seen in two lead film roles and various sketch characters on the Emmy-winning Inside Amy Schumer. Her first lead movie role, in 2015’s Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow but written by Schumer, showed moviegoers someone who breathlessly challenged the quaint gender dynamics of a romantic comedies, and displayed her ability to deliver a laugh-out-loud joke out amid a heartfelt moment and vice versa. Last year’s Snatched, directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Katie Dippold, paired Schumer with Goldie Hawn but arguably limited Schumer’s range, forcing her to mine the extroverted, party-centric qualities that offer one only one part of her charisma.
But the strongest moments of I Feel Pretty recall one of the best statements from her 2016 book, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo: “Beautiful, ugly, funny, boring, smart or not, my vulnerability is my ultimate strength.” It’s a movie that excels in particular with powerful moments in which Schumer’s character looks at herself in the mirror, whether it’s with complete dejection as during the opening credits, with explosive euphoria in the bathroom after the life-changing SoulCycle accident, or with horror when she later thinks she’s lost it. Not only do these moments require such a strong range in one take, but they deeply involve us in the very emotional and equally relatable story about being confronted with our physical insecurities, and the fantasy of being able to escape them.
Schumer soars with Renee’s newfound confidence in scenes that follow her supposed transformation, leading to some very funny sequences where she is still the butt of the joke but we aren’t laughing at her. When she participates in a bikini contest, despite the apprehensive expressions of her date, Ethan (Rory Scovel), or the trolling by a contest host played by Dave Attell, her character’s enthusiasm is contagious, and the joke is not on her. We root for and laugh with Renee when it comes to her outlandish dance moves and general zeal, and delight throughout in her forwardness — even though Renee is essentially delusional about where her newfound confidence comes from.
It’s a subtle element of emotional satire of which Schumer, Kohn and Silverstein are in full control. To their advantage is a positive spirit, making I Feel Pretty all the more infectious: a story about a woman who just wants to work hard as a receptionist at a company she cares for, embracing the world. Characters naturally latch on to her throughout the movie, and so, too, does the audience.
But as the story’s emotions skyrocket and plummet and rise again, without hesitating to show Renee’s self-esteem later being corrupted by ego, Schumer is a hero throughout. With her intricate and lively performance, she’s able to sell a great deal of the script’s more openly crowd-pleasing passages, only thwarted by the expected and climactic value-summarizing speech that’s more believable as a commercial. But it’s a testament to Schumer’s talent that the actress could get us to that point, especially as Renee knowingly becomes a bit more cartoonish in the third act.
When looking at her acting career, I Feel Pretty arrives at a significant point for Schumer. Last year, she had a somber, bookending role as a soldier’s widow in Jason Hall’s Thank You for Your Service, and starred in Steve Martin’s Broadway play Meteor Shower. As for the future, she has been circling a biopic about boxer Christy Martin (Schumer has been a boxer for years), and is preparing for a sweeping comedic drama written and directed by Rebecca Miller, co-starring Steve Carell and Nicole Kidman. Despite some backlash to I Feel Pretty, the project feels like a summation of her evolution as an entertainer and is a promising sign of work that is yet to come.
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