I Feel Pretty is more than a comedic feel-good “chick flick.” If you pay attention to the movie’s message, you’ll find there’s a lot that women and men can relate to. Amy Schumer has taken a lot of heat over the depiction of women in this film. Some viewers find her character Renee’s revelation insulting, but that really isn’t the case here.
As mentioned in Film Threat’s review, unlike other ugly duckling-turned-swan films, Renee never undergoes a physical transformation. Her change is purely psychological. With one bump on the head, she gains a sense of self-acceptance. Renee’s new confident attitude emboldens her to take chances she would never have before.
This film paints women and men in a favorable light and aims to inspire. In this series, Film Threat contributors, Bobby Lepire and Tiffany Tchobanian, discuss how I Feel Pretty depicts office politics and influential women in the workplace, explores the role perception (of oneself and by others) plays in daily life, and honestly portrays how everyone struggles with self-acceptance.
After the movie trailer launched, well ahead of its April 2018 release date, it caused a bit of a stir amongst the denizens of the internet. After Renee’s accident, she looks in a mirror and asks if those are her arms? If she’s always looked this way?
Without the context of how the scene plays out in the movie proper, several people, including well-meaning folks with no real agenda, felt it was body shaming. Given that Schumer is not a big lady at all, it was also construed as her maybe, a little bit, making fun of bigger human beings.
There are two takeaways here; first, the people that took offense did not 100% realize what I Feel Pretty is actually about. Secondly, in certain corners of the web, Schumer is hated (see the reaction to her second special) for no substantial reason. The fallout came from those already inclined to dislike her, so that is important to remember. It was entirely overblown, and anyone who saw the movie probably does not agree with that assessment. With all of that said, let’s start digging into the film’s empowering and insightful message.
“…its portrait of office culture. Women dominate the workplace in this movie.“
The first striking element of this film is its portrait of office culture. Women dominate the workplace in this movie. We see a variety of office politics at play in different settings. Mogul, CEO, tech guru, receptionist, etc.
Renee is the head of the information technology department, and it is never made an issue. She’s a woman, she knows computers and related machinery very well, and that is that. The fact that she is a female tech wiz is never even addressed, which is a somewhat refreshing change of pace.
When we first see Renee at work, literally in the basement of a Chinatown restaurant. She snaps at her underachieving and unhygienic co-worker, Mason (Adrian Martinez). She is fed up with him for being unable to make small talk. This is less to do with any malice toward him, and more with Renee being irked at herself. She is trapped in a job that she may be good at, but it has no upward mobility and it doesn’t offer much in the way of a life.
After the confidence-boosting bump, Renee takes a pay cut from her reliable, yet unsatisfying job in tech and becomes a receptionist. She wants to be where the action is instead of wasting away in a storage unit. Much like the powerhouse behind the company she works for, Renee boldly takes a chance on herself.
“Renee takes a pay cut…and becomes a receptionist. She wants to be where the action is instead of wasting away in a storage unit.”
Lilly LeClaire (Lauren Hutton) impressively established a cosmetic empire, which is now run by her granddaughter, Avery (Michelle Williams). In business and several other aspects of life, one’s value in society is tied to material wealth. The United States has been selling the suburbs and the idea of possessing one’s own home as a way to show off success since the end of World War II.
That any work-oriented person, no matter what specific job in the corporate world, would willingly take a pay cut is mystifying. In any other movie, the focus would be on how this pay cut changes Renee’s lifestyle. Questioning if the decrease in wages is worth her gaining a job she considers to be a more fulfilling and engaging prospect would be at the forefront. In one of several smart touches, I Feel Pretty uses her self-demotion as a throwaway gag line and never mentions it again. Wealth and status come up in another form as well.
Avery, despite her millions upon millions of dollars and being the face of a major, successful company, feels lacking. She and her brother Grant (the extremely good looking Tom Hopper) aren’t exactly close. Lilly chastises Avery for not being confident enough and appearing to be weak-willed. Acquiring wealth does not make any one of these people better or worse at navigating both the success or fail finality of business, with the emotional power of real relationships.
When LeClaire aims to branch out into the mainstream marketplace, Renee is the one who represents the voice of every woman. We see the CEO turning to the secretary for guidance, as they can relate to each other on a different plane from the other people in the movie. Lilly relates to Renee because they both worked their way up the corporate ladder, whereas Avery appears to have simply inherited her place in the business.
Despite graduating from an elite university and making her mark on the family business, people don’t view Avery as a competent leader. We also see how a woman in power isn’t afraid to reveal her vulnerability. Avery openly tells Renee that she is frustrated and insecure because nobody takes her seriously – not even her own family. The film’s tactful narrative sets up a fascinating contrast between these women.
Women are judged by their appearance. Renee’s job as a receptionist is to represent what a LeClaire girl looks like, but she breaks the mold. At first, people are taken aback by her “average” appearance. She doesn’t physically represent the LeClaire brand. However, soon enough her intellect, overachieving spunk and confidence win Avery over. Her outgoing personality and conscientiousness win everyone over. Those who once scoffed, now flock to her. Especially Avery. Perception is everything in her line of work, and she falls victim to the reputation that precedes her.
“We also see how a woman in power isn’t afraid to reveal her vulnerability…”
Despite being envied by surrounding wannabes and suck-ups, Avery feels insecure. While others see a cover girl, she sees a Minnie Mouse-voiced girl seeking approval, desperately trying to live up to superficial expectations, and fighting to be seen as a successful businesswoman. She is always trying to prove herself to Lilly and feels like people don’t take her seriously as a businesswoman because she looks and sounds like a stereotypical “pretty, dumb blonde.” Moreover, Avery isn’t the only beauty who feels inadequate.
Mallory (Emily Ratajkowski), the model Renee keeps bumping into throughout the film, is riddled with her own insecurities. It doesn’t matter how many men oggle or approach her, she looks in the mirror and thinks she isn’t good enough. As a model, she’s consistently compared to other “perfect” physical specimens. Her livelihood depends on her physical attributes. Therefore it makes sense for her to feel “less than” at times. Men may throw themselves at her on the street, but in her world, she probably hears “No” and “You’re not good enough” all the time. Meanwhile, Renee is riding this new high.
Renee is comfortable in her skin and thinks that’s the way every attractive woman must feel. She is surprised when two stunning beauties reveal how they struggle with low self-esteem. We see how Avery and Mallory’s insecurities stem from the important role that perception plays in their line of work. Their jobs demand them to live up to certain aesthetic ideals, whereas Renee has placed these unattainable standards upon herself.
Office culture and perception intersect throughout the film, but those are the window dressing to I Feel Pretty’s primary goal. This illustration of hardworking women excelling in business is what makes the aforementioned controversy so out of place. However, this is just one of many messages. The film’s key takeaway is its depiction of self-acceptance and self-respect, which we will discuss in the second half of this series.