Amy Schumer’s latest comedy vehicle, I Feel Pretty, mixes laughs with a positive message about confidence and where it should really come from.
On the outside, I Feel Pretty seems like a raucous Amy Schumer comedy in which a normal-looking young woman, wishing she had the kind of beauty society associates with supermodels, hits her head and is convinced she has catwalk-style looks and Kardashian cool.
But look deeper, and it’s apparent that this smart, sincere movie is not only very funny but also very sensitive about how everyone – women, men, the elite, and the ordinary – should see themselves more positively and, well, feel pretty and witty and bright, as the classic song goes that gives the film its title.
“There’s a message here that I wanted to send about confidence and where it should really come from,” says Schumer, speaking a few hours before she hosted a special screening of the film for a group of teenage girls in Manhattan. “And that is, ‘Don’t let anyone else tell you who you are or what you look like. You determine your own worth. Pay attention to the times when you feel best about yourself, and always carry that with you.’”
In the film, written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, Renee Bennett (Schumer) works in a grimy basement office that handles online retail for a glamorous New York cosmetics company. She hangs with her friends Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps), but comes home to her small apartment crushed by low self-esteem.
Following an epic fall from a stationary bike at a SoulCycle class, Renee wakes up, looks in the mirror … and wonders who can that attractive girl be? Renee feels just as stunning and entrancing as her SoulCycle cohort (Emily Ratajkowski), and assures Vivian and Jane that yes, it’s still Renee under all that beauty, in case they don’t recognise her.
Her pals go along with it, confused but nonetheless happy about Renee’s boost in self-esteem. Now convinced the world sees her the way she sees herself, Renee applies for, and gets, a better job at the Fifth Avenue headquarters of her company. She impresses the firm’s CEO Avery LeClair (Michelle Williams) with her common sense about what women shop for. She picks up a nice guy named Ethan (Rory Scovel) at the dry cleaners, and she confidently and impulsively enters a bikini contest while hanging with Ethan at Coney Island. She’s the same person, but her new perspective opens up the world to her. “It was really important to me, and to all of us, that you never saw me ever actually looking any different,” says Schumer.
“It’s been interesting to hear what people think Renee sees. Some people have said, ‘Why does she have to see herself being skinny to feel good?’ And I’m like, ‘You don’t know what she sees – that’s what you’re seeing.’ It’s that she loves how she looks.”
“From the moment we had the idea, I wrote down, ‘You never see what Renee sees,’” explains Kohn. “That was as important to me as the fact that the character believes that she’s beautiful. We never entertained the notion of doing that. It’s much more powerful this way.”
The screenwriters were adaman that I Feel Pretty also be their directing debut. When Schumer’s schedule opened up in mid-2017 following her exit from a planned big screen comedy version of Barbie (about a Barbie doll who winds up in the real world), she read Kohn and Silverstein’s script and signed on to star.
“Amy had been working on and writing Barbie, and then we had a conversation with her about how these issues of body image and confidence have been something she’s talked about personally and that she tries to put into her work,” says Kohn. “When she read our script, she was like, ‘Oh my god, these are all the things I wanted to talk about, and you guys did it exactly as I would have done it!’ It dovetailed perfectly with what she wanted to say – in addition to her thinking it was really funny and she’d be able to bring her own humor to it.”
To play Renee’s boyfriend, Ethan, stand-up Rory Scovel – a friend of Schumer’s who appeared on her TV show – signed on. “Ethan is not unlike myself – he doesn’t have smooth pickup lines, he’s not a ‘player’. I liked playing him because I got to be the male voice of insecurity in the movie,” riffs Scovel. “To me, that’s what makes the movie really interesting. It’s about everybody’s insecurity, covering everyone’s issues with self-esteem.”
Scovel says that the film’s insights into how self-sabotaging a lack of confidence can be isn’t restricted to only women. “To do stand-up comedy, you sort of have to face your insecurities and figure out how to write them into your comedy,” he explains. “In stand-up, you write a joke about your insecurities, and that’s part of your stage act. In a healthy way, it makes you aware of them… In this film, in one particular scene, Ethan is nervous about taking his shirt off in front of Renee. And in real life, I don’t have the physique someone may consider attractive, but this is who I am. It was interesting to [act] in that scene, and to kind of tap into a real place.”
Busy Philipps, who plays Jane, also recognised how important the film’s message was.
“People walk away from the film very empowered,” says Phillips. “Any time a movie can have a secondary meaning, it elevates the movie, including a romantic-comedy. The truer a person is to themselves, the more irresistible they are.”
Philipps adds that Schumer is the perfect star to embody both sides of I Feel Pretty. “Amy brings so much heart to this movie, and she’s so grounded in her character. There’s a softer side to her here. And then she’s obviously a killer at the comedy.”