No so long ago, you could make $100 million and a launch lucrative, empowering, Oscar-winning career for yourself by starring in a movie called Pretty Woman.
Nowadays, you use the word "Pretty" in a movie title, and you draw the ire of the internet's Rampaging Horde of the Perpetually Offended, who've used social media to chastise Amy Schumer over her new comedy I Feel Pretty.
Schumer plays Renee, a woman with low self-esteem who gets bonked on the head at a SoulCycle class, and wakes up thrilled with herself and her appearance, thus acquiring a self-confidence that is attractive to men and to colleagues, helping her love life and career.
But wait! say the offended. Why do women need a bonk on the head to achieve the self confidence they should already have? (This is essentially the point of the movie, by the way). And what is pretty anyway but an arbitrary, outmoded, subjective standard used to make women feel bad? Others concede that some women are pretty, and complain that Schumer is too pretty — she's blonde and white, conforming to Western beauty standards, they say — to play a woman who doesn't believe she's pretty.
Why would such a woman have low self-esteem? Well, it's been known to happen. That's why the movie includes a scene of Renee giving comfort to a fashion model (Emily Ratajkowski), who's just been dumped by her boyfriend and feeling pretty low.
So at least the movie is not the second coming of Shallow Hal.
It would be pretty nice at this point to report that I Feel Pretty is pretty funny, but alas, it is not.
There are a few moments wherein Schumer has a chance to successfully deploy the brash, take-me-as-I-am persona she has cultivated on stage and in her starring debut, Trainwreck, but mostly the script shows signs of having been awkwardly retrofitted to accommodate the star and her brand.
Schumer looks lost in early scenes that paint Renee as a wallflower, scavenging the internet for dates with her two pals (Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps). Renee's professional life also makes little sense — she's a brainy IT worker for a fashion/cosmetics empire who inexplicably dreams of being a receptionist at the corporation's head office.
After the mind-altering head injury (a perspective change the movie does a poor job of explaining, perhaps feeding the controversy), the newly assertive Renee gets the job in the executive suite, a place dominated by the firm's legendary matriarch (Lauren Hutton), who is in the process of turning the operation over to her intimidated, doll-voiced daughter (Michelle Williams, in a rare comic turn).
The screenplay's unstable internal logic has Renee tutoring executives on how to sell discount cosmetics to the unglamorous, while at the same time displaying a status-obsessed, fashion-model mindset that causes a rift with her friends, who have found men who like them the way they are.
Renee also acquires a boyfriend, played by comedian Rory Scovel, although why they hired a comedian for this role is a mystery, since the poor guy has almost no funny lines, and is there mostly to gaze approvingly at his co-star.
Their chemistry isn't great, but then again, Schumer didn't hit it off with Goldie Hawn in Snatched either. Her best outing remains Trainwreck, a movie that she wrote herself, and that was directed by Judd Apatow, who has a knack for scenarios that show comedians in their best light.
A skill that is, dare I say, pretty rare.