I feel as if I should apologize for this movie. They say if you put your will out into the universe, that energy will come back to you. I’ve spent way too much (sarcastic?) time lamenting the loss of what I felt was a golden age of bad comedies, those old gems I grew up on with premises based on father-son mind swaps, mysterious wish-fulfilling amulets and magical bumps on the head. And now Amy Schumer and the filmmakers behind Never Been Kissed are dumping I Feel Pretty all over us. Again, I’m sorry.
Owing — and even announcing on screen — a considerable debt to Penny Marshall’s Big, I Feel Pretty tries its hand in the early going at digging into some deeper thematic territory but trips over itself at every turn. Allegedly a self-actualization fairy tale, the film can’t resist laughing at its characters for daring to accept themselves and have the confidence to live up to whatever heart might have been behind the project. Cheap laughs are fine, don’t get me wrong. And for this type of comedy, they’re certainly to be expected. But the directors just can’t help themselves and consistently turn what might have been a typical awkward comedy into a mean-spirited and squirm-inducing affair that makes it all but impossible to simply go along for the ride.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of this whole high-concept nightmare, though, is the fact that the film makes as many pointed references to The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant as it does to Target. Michelle Williams’ entire performance, wardrobe and backstory seemingly announce that we’re supposed to be reading something between the lines throughout the film, but for the life of me I can’t quite figure it out. Something about the despair of modern living and how it’s all tied to an impossible-to-achieve, Hollywood-dictated beauty standard that sucks all light out of what should be a fun and creative aspect of our lives? How this reached its height with the appearance of the department store beauty counter and how Target is helping to alleviate some of this stress while at the same time turning cosmetics- and fashion-oriented self-care into a soulless pursuit that only the most vapid among us can actually enjoy? I’m struggling here, and I kind of can’t care anyway because the movie delivering this muddled sermon is so shallow to begin with that any broader concerns are just sort of buried and don’t really go anywhere.
Speaking of Target — and this film does, a lot — it’s almost absurd how often the store is mentioned as being both a goal for the characters (their cosmetics brand is about to launch a “diffusion” line at the chain) and the epitome of giving up. I can only imagine that whoever gave the blessing for the store name to be used was just as confused as I am by the finished product.
But look, I shop at Target. And I’m really into Fassbinder. My partner and I even do dueling Merchant of Four Seasons impressions around the house to make each other laugh. Am I really somehow to blame for this movie coming into being? I have no real defense. But as Fassbinder would say, “People are terrible.”
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some partial nudity, and language. Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.