By Tracy Wang
When a person asks you what makes a person beautiful, what would you say? Like many of us, Renee Barrett (Amy Schumer), a girl who has extremely low self-esteem, prioritizes physical beauty over inner beauty, even though so many of us want to believe that inner beauty can triumph over physical beauty.
Written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, ‘I Feel Pretty’ takes this idea to the extreme, and shows us how damaging this priority could be to everyone in society. Renee, an employee of the huge cosmetic brand, Lily LeClaire who does not look like a supermodel, works in a shabby office room in Chinatown, away from the headquarter on Fifth Avenue. Though she always has her two best friends by her side, she struggles with low self-esteem and her biggest wish is to be ‘undeniably beautiful’.
One day, when she is cycling at a gym, she accidentally falls down from the chair, and hits her head. She wakes up, and miraculously, she now sees herself as a completely different girl, one who is beautiful in societal standard. The miracle change changes her into a different person (though her looks actually never changed at all), who is confident and happy all the time, and she evens lands as a receptionist at Lily LeClaire’s headquarter office.
A romance with Ethan (Rory Scovel) blooms, as her friendships with Vivien and Jane almost end, because of her change of attitude (someone who prices appearances above all else). But the miracle does not last. When she hits her head again in a shower, she thinks that she has changed back to her old self. Now completely devoid of any confidence, she must find a way to recognize and find beauty in herself.
Before its release, ‘I Feel Pretty’ has already raised some controversies over what the film is telling its audiences, whether it is still asking girls and women to be somebody other than themselves in order to be pretty and beautiful in society’s always judging eyes. Just from the trailer, the film does raise serious questions on beauty and appearances, and at times, the film could be irritating, because we witness the bullied become the bully (Renee adopts the idea that people only care about looks but not personalities, and sets out to ‘save’ her friends from being rejected by their dates by avoiding any talks of their personalities).
Though we at times empathize with Renee on how much she would love to be beautiful, we cannot help but struggle to like the Renee who is completely taken over by looks, and all the other wrong messages society has been sending our ways, and even denies her supermodel friend from having low self-esteem, just because she is so pretty. Fortunately, the film plots enough points of positive messages to get us to the ending that ends up to be empowering.
Like all the comedy films, ‘I Feel Pretty’ dramatizes certain scenes, such as the beginning of the film when Renee is constantly being shut out of a crowd or store because of how she looks. We see a Renee who is almost invisible on the glass window, and separated from all the rest of the world. Some comedic moments are questionable (her insistence on being changed physically though her appearance never changes throughout the film), but some actually have the potential to stir some interesting conversations.
A romantic interest picked up by Renee at a dry cleaner store, Ethan is perhaps the most interesting character of the whole film. A man who is not so happy at his work, and being laughed at by his coworkers, his presence defies everything we have assumed of a hereosexual relationship. Almost every step of their relationship is initiated by Renee, and he is almost as insecure in front of ‘better-looking’ men as Renee is in front of the supermodel women at the gym. Him mirroring everything Brant (Lily LeClaire’s handsome son) does at the dinner table steals that moment, and the message of men having the same insecurities, and emotions as women enriches this film greatly.
As uncomfortable as it is to watch Renee being beautiful by becoming someone totally different from herself, her sudden job as a receptionist at Lily LeClaire, and her numerous wise input in its product lines, shed lights on something such as her strength and intelligence other than her looks. What’s even more empowering is the fact that all these other supposedly beautiful people (Brant, Lily, Avery LeClaire) all start to grow close to her, not because of her beauty or her looks, but because of how funny and clever she is.
Throughout the whole movie, we see a girl who desperately wants to become someone else, someone more beautiful, someone better, but in the end, we witness a girl winning everyone over by her wit and cleverness. Most of all, through her miraculous change of looks, we realize that confidence and appreciation are what we need to create and find beauty, because the world is always going to judge a person based on how he or she looks, but the only one who can really determine and bring out your beauty is yourself.