I Feel Pretty
Directed by: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein
Run time: 110 minutes
The Lowdown: True story, I fully expected to hate I Feel Pretty.
And I do mean hate as in despise. I mean loathe in the sense that I was almost salivating at the thought of dissecting Amy Schumer’s latest with deliciously vicious glee.
And then I watched I Feel Pretty, and now I’m firmly convinced that with a hard edit to remove about 20 minutes of footage, this could have, should have been a major cinema experience for people who approach life with a daily cringe, afraid to be themselves because society has brain-washed us into believing that beauty is what matters most, so much more so than the beautiful soul that exists inside.
I Feel Pretty opens strong with a montage of conversations, encounters and interactions that I'm sure many women experience on the daily: A retail assistant immediately telling you that the store only carries your size online, a baby crying at the sight of your face, an attendant at the gym announcing you have huge feet. And it ends with a wonderfully muted moment, a strip-down reveal by Schumer that makes you feel her vulnerability.
As written and directed by a pair of first-timers, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, I Feel Pretty is pretty on-point in its early-goings-on. Schumer plays Renee Bennett, an insecure blonde every-person who toils away in obscurity in the basement IT office of a renowned cosmetics and beauty conglomerate with her co-worker Mason (a hysterical Adrian Martinez).
Renee has two close friends, Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps), who play a variation of the Greek chorus, constantly reinforcing body-positive viewpoints, even as Renee feels perpetually un-pretty.
There’s a brutally real, and very funny, takedown of online dating and the insecurities that it brings out in people, male or female, who sign up and then fret about everything from their profile description to the dreaded profile picture.
And then I Feel Pretty gets to its core conceit. After watching Big one night on television, Renee becomes obsessed with the idea that wishes can come true. She hustles down to a fountain near her New York neighborhood and prays to unleash the beautiful, confident woman she knows is inside.
Imagine Freaky Friday with just Lindsay Lohan or 18 Again! with no George Burns. It’s a risky, high-concept gamble that few mainstream comedies today have been successful in pulling off.
But, surprisingly, it works.
After a hard knock to her noggin, Renee awakes to see herself in the mirror and she immediately believes her wish has come true. The joke, of course, is that she’s still looking at herself, but now she loves what she sees.
Schumer excels at this brand of comedy naiveté. She strides into the local dry cleaners and immediately thinks that the cute, geeky guy behind her, Ethan (Rory Scovel), is hitting on her. She makes him exchange numbers even as the business owner loudly informs her, ‘I couldn't get the red vomit out of this,’ while holding up a cocktail dress. ‘There was chunks in it! Did ya know that?’
Renee allows her personality to shine through. She applies for a job as the main receptionist at the cosmetics company where she works, which just happens to be struggling to find the right face for its new, affordable cosmetics line targeting everyday women.
She has a hysterical back-and-forth with Mason while he’s sitting in the dingy toilet at their office. ‘I really need you to leave. I don't want you to hear the splash,’ Mason implores her, his voice cracking with shame. ‘Go,’ he pleads, wiping sweat from his forehead with toilet paper. ‘Please, go.’
Renee’s confidence surprises and confuses almost everyone she meets, but not Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams, in a wonderful supporting role), the fashion icon/face of the company where Renee works.
Kohn and Silverstein pile on at times, riffing off classic office comedies like Working Girl and 9 to 5, but while the film threatens to derail at every turn, it somehow consistently course-corrects.
Still, you can’t help but feel anxious. You know the feeling I’m talking about. That fear that I Feel Pretty could slide full-on into Melissa McCarthy territory at any minute.
On her first date with Ethan, Renee takes him to a dive bar hosting a wet T-shirt contest. At this point, we’re just 47 minutes in. There’s a full hour left. You can feel the strain as you imagine tiny cracks forming.
I actually wrote in my notes: Don't go Tammy. Please don't go Tammy.
Once again, I Feel Pretty rights itself by delivering an honest-to-goodness positive spin on female objectification, much to my surprise.
Just 22 minutes later, however, the wobble officially set in. Renee’s too-predictable change in personality appears. She becomes overly pushy, alienating her friends. She is gifted a massive work opportunity by Avery, which Avery’s cocky-hot brother immediately tries to undermine. And then Renee accidentally bonks her head again, breaking the spell she was under. Suddenly, Renee is back to seeing herself in the mirror and not the uber-hot beauty she previously saw. She has a meltdown and immediately does all the dumb things you would expect from this kind of broad comedy.
There’s a lot of rough water at this point that’s thankfully tempered by a real-truth reality check from Renee’s friends. Once again, I Feel Pretty rights itself, magically morphing back into a smart examination of body politics. Following a bunch of unrealistic, only-in-a-movie plot contrivances, Renee finally sees the light and everybody gets the happy ending that these kinds of films promise and strive to deliver.
I Feel Pretty is basically two-thirds of a really good comedy that with some tweaks and cuts could have been a much more powerful film.
As it is, Schumer deserves props for at least initiating a conversation about self-esteem and acceptance that’s long been absent from the big screen. And that is Pretty cool.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Body shamers.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Doom Asylum (Arrow Video, 79 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Richard Friedman’s goofy splatter-comedy, Doom Asylum, released in 1987, is one of those movies made for people who love bad movies.
Here’s the basic premise: An ambulance-chasing lawyer named Mitch (Michael Rogen) is driving and celebrating with his buxom client Judy (Patty Mullen) when they careen off the road in a horrific crash. Judy is DOA, but Mitch makes it to the local morgue where he miraculously reanimates in the middle of his own autopsy.
Years later, a group of young adults, including Jane (Kristin Davis, Sex and the City, in her first screen role), Darnell (Harrison White), Mike (William Hay) and Kiki, the now-grown daughter of Judy (also played by Mullen, whom genre fans know best as Frankenhooker), are traveling to an abandoned asylum, which just happens to be adjacent to the site of Kiki’s mother’s deadly crash.
Even though the accident happened 10 years earlier, Kiki walks over into the grass and immediately finds her mother’s vanity hand mirror. She’s totally unfazed. ‘Oh, cool!’
Kiki’s boyfriend, Mike, has a serious problem with commitment, in that he can never make a decision, a fact that gets played for laughs over and over. “We’ll be back in a flash. Unless it takes longer,” he says at one point. “Maybe we shouldn’t go? Or should we?”
Once they make it to the asylum, the group finds that the decrepit institution has been occupied by an all-female punk band fronted by Tina (Ruth Collins), doing her best to channel Wendy O. Williams.
Tina cackles maniacally every time she makes a statement. At one point, Mike tells her, ‘Cut the crap, Tina!’ Her response: ‘Got a knife? Hahahahahahahahahahaha!’
Doom Asylum is one of those late-80’s oddities that exists in its own world, immune from criticism. Kiki takes to referring to Mike as ‘Mom,’ in honor of her dead mother. Things just get weird from there. At one point, she says, ‘Mom, give me a kiss,’ but when Mike tries to slide in some tongue, Kiki squeals in disgust. ‘Mom, that’s incest!’
Eventually, it’s revealed that the reanimated Mitch, now horribly burned, with his face missing large chunks of flesh, also haunts the asylum. Many critics have argued that Mitch is a poor man’s ripoff of Freddy Krueger because he’s constantly trying to make jokes before or after his kills. Personally, I look at him a little differently. He’s like The Toxic Avenger, if Toxie was the bad guy.
During another ridiculous sequence, Mike gets into an extended karate/fist-fight with Tina where she basically kicks his ass so bad that he ends up hanging by his fingernails from the roof of the asylum.
“Is that Mom hanging off that building?” a surprised Kiki asks from the patch of grass down below where she’s sunbathing with Jane.
“Don’t worry,” Jane says absently, “he’s not going to fall.”
Suddenly, a scream cuts through the air. Mike thinks it’s Kiki, and immediately leaps back over the ledge as if he wasn’t just hanging on for dear life.
Throughout Doom Asylum, Friedman makes the interesting decision to intersperse scenes from a host of black-and-white classic horror films starring Tod Slaughter, which Mitch is watching down in the bowels of the building.
If nothing else, the Slaughter clips serve as a reminder that sometimes the best horror movies are the ones you accidentally stumble upon, which is why I immediately began searching for the title of one particular movie repeated throughout Doom Asylum, the 1935 release, Maria Marten, or The Murder in the Red Barn.
If ever there was a clip to be sampled by a goth-industrial band, it’s this one:
“Didn't I make you a promise, Maria? I promised to make you a bride,” Squire William Corder (Slaughter) evily informs his beloved. “Don't be afraid, Maria. You shall be a bride. A bride of death!”
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