Renee doesn't like the way she looks. As played by Amy Schumer, she wishes she were more confident and vivacious, as conventionally beautiful as the supermodels that always seem to be swarming around her in New York City. And then she gets her wish, albeit in an odd way: She hits her head during a SoulCycle session, and every time she looks in the mirror, she sees her ideal self looking back, and it inspires within her the swagger of a million Linda Evangelistas.
That's the set-up for the new comedy I Feel Pretty, an intriguing, potentially incendiary premise for a movie that's content to coast by on soft, low-key charm. It still works in a modest way, mainly because Schumer commits so completely.
The wallflower version of Renee works in a grubby office, rips her gym pants in exercise class and gets elbowed out of line at the bar. With her newfound superpower of self-assurance, she flirts with dudes in the dry cleaners, enters a dive bar bikini contest and even impresses a cosmetics company CEO (Michelle Williams, channeling a Disney princess version of Marilyn Monroe) to land a prime VP position.
Because I Feel Pretty was written and directed by rom-com vets Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (Never Been Kissed, He's Just Not That Into You), we wait patiently for the genre-tested complications to kick in, and they do. There are the two possible love interests — the unassuming but genuinely nice guy (Rory Scovel), and the roguish celebrity bachelor (Tom Hopper) who's obviously up to no good. There's the tortured third-act contrivance that requires characters to talk around the point so that a particular misunderstanding can persist, and the career-making presentation that finds the right people showing up at just the right time.
And what are the odds that Renee will hit her head again at the worst possible moment, reversing her head injury like she's in some kind of Hanna-Barbera cartoon?
So it's got its problems, but I developed enough goodwill toward I Feel Pretty that I didn't always mind when the screenplay chose the most obvious narrative paths. Schumer and Scovel have a warm, sweet chemistry, and it's refreshing to see a movie that takes aim at the impossible, sexist beauty standards women are held to, and suggests a little insecurity isn't such a bad thing.
It's a nice message, though what it really could have used was the kind of sly comic subversion that defines Schumer's own stand-up. This is a pleasant enough comedy, but it could have been a radical one.