In the movie “Shallow Hal,” the hero (Jack Black) who is resoundingly average in looks but who has stratosphere-high standards for the women he considers dating, gets hypnotized so he can experience the gift of seeing how beautiful people’s inner selves are right away. Post-transformation, Jack goes to a bar with his equally shallow pal (Jason Alexander) who has not been hypnotized and is therefore clueless. Soon Jack’s bogeying the night away with who he perceives as three gorgeous ladies, having the time of his life, and he’s baffled as to why Jason can’t see what he sees. But the camera clicks into Jason’s (i.e. reality’s eyes), and we see – lo and behold – three average women. Or what Hollywood considers average or below par anyway.
Now in “I Feel Pretty,” Amy Schumer tells the story from the side of one of the dancing women. What if one of them was also hypnotized and genuinely believed she was gorgeous (and perhaps being kind to Jack)? (Or maybe she was already empowered and having a good time anyway?) In what may or may not be a “Bridget Jones” reference, Amy plays a young woman named Renee, who like 99 percent of American women, has things about her appearance she wishes she could change. When we first meet her, she has great friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips) who are in the same boat, and a go-nowhere job at a cosmetics empire which sticks her in a basement office because she’s not pretty enough for the actual office. The company is founded by Lauren Hutton, who is the grandmother of the current CEO (Michelle Williams), and when Amy discovers there is a receptionist job open, she wistfully wishes she could apply.
After a series of movie mishaps which include toppling off an exercise bike during a fully-attended class, Amy makes a wish in a thunderstorm (after watching “Big” on the couch with the requisite glass of wine – but no cat) that she would become beautiful. Sure enough, after she has an accident and bumps her head, she emerges fully convinced that she’s gorgeous – although the viewer and everyone else in the movie can’t see any change. However, Amy’s confidence soars, and soon she’s sashaying down the street convinced every stray whistle and smile is aimed at her. She gets a boyfriend (Rory Scovel) in record time (mostly by quasi-terrorizing him), and the longed-for promotion. In “Big” tradition by employing total bluntness, Amy catches the eye of Michelle by explaining that average women would really appreciate having a makeup brush included in the package, and so on. But alas, the magic has an expiration date.
“I Feel Pretty” starts off strong, as Amy throws herself (sometimes literally) into her role, even participating in an impromptu bikini contest but gets surreal after Amy wakes up to the reality that she’s been bewitched. Everyone else in the movie assumes she’s just being her usual wacky self, which makes apologies about treating people shallowly difficult. But in the end, she rallies and achieves that most sought-after movie prize: wild applause after an impromptu speech on Being Yourself No Matter What. (This is Michelle’s second recent movie with this message following “The Greatest Showman.”) While this is a time-worn message, it’s still something that’s always good to hear. Especially served with a side of hearty laughter.