The joke of Miss Piggy was never that, despite her gloves and boas and perfect blonde locks, she was actually a pig and therefore an idiot to think so highly of herself. The joke was how many times you caught yourself forgetting she was a pig, due to the sheer force of her personality. Miss Piggy was aspirational, a gal who was destined for the big time, not despite but because of her generous figure and assertive snout. She demanded the best from her colleagues and boyfriend, and though it sometimes left them bewildered, nobody ever doubted her right to do so. Nobody would ever laugh behind Miss Piggy’s back, or whisper to each other, “y’know, she’s actually a pig,” no matter how crazy she drove them.
If you search “Amy Schumer” and “Miss Piggy” on Google, you get a lot of misogynistic Reddit types endeavoring to insult the comedian and star with the comparison, but you also get Schumer herself identifying Piggy — objectively the most glamorous and voracious of all the muppets — as an early inspiration. That paradox, and the paper-thin line between laughing with or at is the precarious backbone of I Feel Pretty, Schumer’s latest vehicle. The plot-engine joke — that Schumer’s character Renee hits her head and wakes up convinced she’s gorgeous — is nothing if not well-intentioned, but veers into cheap and easy enough times to be misinterpreted. When it’s good, though, and when Schumer’s fully locked into her take-no-prisoners charm assault, it’s pretty undeniably delightful stuff. If you’re not a particular fan of hers — for reasons other than ones the Reddit bros would cite — you may find yourself momentarily forgetful of all that.
I’m loathe to overanalyze a joke, but I Feel Pretty’s is a byzantine hall of mirrors that begs at least a little analysis. At its cornerstone is the assumption that Renee is unattractive enough for her new self-image to be “impossible” — i.e. only possible via brain trauma. Amy Schumer is many things, and some of them vary wildly depending on the eye of the beholder, but she’s certainly not someone who needs to hide her face in a broom closet. Which is basically where we find Renee at the beginning of the film, working as a web manager for a high-powered beauty company, hidden away in a basement far from the glamorous midtown headquarters with a sole programmer as her office mate. She has two supportive best girlfriends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips) but she’s preoccupied with being pretty in a way that feels almost age inappropriate, going so far as to badger an attractive stranger (Emily Ratajkowski, who else) about her lifestyle.
Of course, the film wants us to realize that it was Renee’s poor self-image that made her “ugly” before her unfortunate SoulCycle injury, but I was more preoccupied by her treatment of her co-worker, played by Adrian Martinez, whom she makes no secret of actively loathing, and who is seen at one point having violent bowel issues for no particular reason other than to emphasize how lowly he is. (At first, I thought, she’s going to learn a lesson about superficiality and end up with this guy. It’s not that movie, however; he comes through for her in a climactic moment and then we never hear from him again, not even to say thank you.) I don’t need my rom-com heroines to abide by any particular standards of etiquette, but it would be helpful to get a sense of if I’m supposed to think they’re shitty or not, and when.
When the brain-injured Renee starts strutting her stuff, she picks up a cute dweeb at the laundromat (Rory Scovel) and on their first date, they wind up at a Coney Island bikini contest. The high point of the film, and the most Miss Piggy-esque, incidentally, sees Schumer prancing in cutoffs and a hiked up T-shirt in front of a row of beach-body babes, winning over a crowd of cavemen with sheer charisma and her willingness to go for it. We see her reflected in her love interest’s eyes; when she comes back from the stage, blithely accepting of the fact that she didn’t win because she’s secure in the fact that she’s the best no matter what, he blurts out, “Can I be you when I grow up?”
The stuff with Scovel is the strongest in the film, funny and inspiring and even a little sexy. The work plot, which sees Renee transfer to the supermodel-filled headquarters and become a trusted adviser as an “ordinary girl,” doesn’t work so well, if only because it relies much more heavily on the “but you’re a pig” jokes. The exception is Michelle Williams, giving far and away the funniest performance in the film as Renee’s new boss. Her Avery LeClaire is the anti-Miranda Priestly, a piece of Kleenex personified, somewhere between Gwyneth Paltrow and that crying ghost in the Harry Potter movies that lives in the bathroom. It’s fabulous to see Williams, so often typecast as a tragic wife or girlfriend, really do a character; it’s even more fun to see her kill it. She and Schumer are never at odds, merely inverses of each other, and it’s rather anticlimactic when all that weird energy just culminates in what more or less amounts to a Dove body wash ad. But as well as it functions as a rom com, the career plot, not the love plot, is the A story in I Feel Pretty. Which certainly says something about what prettiness, felt or perceived, is good for.