It has long been said by altruistic philosophers, and famously iterated in 1966 by no less authority than David Ruffin and The Temptations, that "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep."
But alas, anyone who has spent any time on this planet chock full of monuments to physical splendor, and who has perhaps had the lesson harshly impressed in middle school, knows that all that well-meaning claptrap goes out the window when one is confronted with a comely face or a well-turned ankle. There is no expression, "The great personality that launched a thousand ships."
Thus, even we really good looking people must commiserate with Amy Schumer's Renee Bennett in directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein's sweet and fanciful "I Feel Pretty."
Unafraid of presumption in weaving its wish-fulfillment plot, the convivial fantasy's DNA harks back to iconic farces like "One Touch of Venus" (1948) and "Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid" (1948). Of course, our suspension of disbelief requires that we issue nary a wince when Renee realizes her dream of being beautiful via no less a cliché than a bump on the head. OK with me.
Truth is, it wouldn't be half as much fun if there were some esoteric, scientific explanation for Renee's transition from wallflower sequestered in a dingy office doing drab computer work for haute cosmetic company, Lily LeClaire, to high profile trend-setter. Rather, it's the magic, verve and humanity Schumer imbue Renee with that captures our imagination. Sweetly peddling a sense of poetic justice, she sings a paean to the underdog, embodying a happy turn of events in a time that sure could use a smile to counter the scowl now casting a shadow on the landscape.
But what makes Schumer's portrayal so ingratiating beyond its temporary salve against cynicism, as well as a tutorial about the truly important things in life, is that it serves as a vital reminder, an aide-mémoire. While watching Renee conquer her lack of self-esteem offers us vicarious joy in the dark of the movie house, an implied benefit gives us a little something to take home. Wafted to where enchantment lives, we glimpse that idealistic part of our very being that pulled us out of the primordial mud in the first place.
Giving this all just a smidgen of realism while providing Schumer the opportunity to showcase her thespic chops, the image we see in the mirror, mirror on the wall is not a more attractive stand-in, but Renee herself, simply imagining a different visage. The humor in this pantomimic accomplishment extends into the narrative and leads to the predictable moral of the story. We'd be up in arms if it were anything less than totally expected.
A now bold and brazen Renee, bursting with chutzpah, is overpowering in her confidence. She bowls folks over.
This includes Ethan, nicely portrayed by Rory Scovel, who becomes a love interest after our brave new girl meets him in a dry cleaning establishment and proceeds to explain how it's perfectly understandable that he might be overwhelmed by her pulchritude. But on to the really big wish, the plan is to wrest herself from the Chinatown basement of anonymity, where average-looking Renee toiled inconsequently, and catapult to a position of glamour at LeClaire.
Shades of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (1968), the old chestnut works. There are no surprises worth mentioning. It's all unabashedly feel-good stuff save for the perfunctory stumbling block at the catastasis when the newly minted Venus suffers a case of hubris, alienates her two best buds, and puts her unassuming beau in a quandary. Yet, fret not.
There is an ethical gyroscope at work in this wisp of a cotton candy amusement that makes sure rewards, comeuppances and justifications are doled out in fair proportion. Still, for all its sweet-souled pandering to our inner softy, a smart, mini-treatise on vanity supplies a certain legitimacy.
This comes courtesy of what appears to be a heartfelt tour-de-force from Schumer that plays like a one-woman show with only a spray of human decoration. While all the ancillary portrayals supply the necessary sounding boards, including a bit of high-pitched jadedness from Michelle Williams as the out-of-touch granddaughter of founder Lily LeClaire (Lauren Hutton), it's Amy in whom we invest our fond wishes. Striking a seriocomic blow for anyone who ever felt they were shortchanged in the beauty sweepstakes, she is the Jeanne d'Arc of averageness.
You see, while our better instincts agree in principle that beauty is only skin deep, albeit with circumspect reservation, few people tune into the Miss America Pageant for the talent portions alone. Hence, in tackling this one example of our ingrained hypocrisies, "I Feel Pretty" charmingly declares the wisdom of taking the time to dig beneath the surface in search of the inner beauty that might therein lie.
"I Feel Pretty," rated PG-13, is an STX Entertainment release directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein and stars Amy Schumer, Rory Scovel and Michelle Williams. Running time: 110 minutes.
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