WASHINGTON — They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the same goes for movie comedy, which is arguably the most subjective genre due to our differing funny bones.
In the Farrelly Brothers’ lowbrow “Shallow Hal” (2001), a male pig (Jack Black) came to see a woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) as just as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside.
This weekend, Amy Schumer flips that concept in the new comedy “I Feel Pretty,” which she broke down with WTOP during a visit to the Newseum to explain why she took the role.
“It was the money,” Schumer joked before admitting, “It was the message.”
Set in modern-day Manhattan, Renee Bennett is an insecure urbanite constantly going to the gym in a battle with her body image. One magical day, she wakes from a fall believing that she is the world’s most beautiful woman, inspiring her to walk a little taller. But when the magic spell fades, will she realize that the secret to self esteem was inside her the whole time?
“We just want people to laugh and have a good time,” Schumer said. “I like the idea of people leaving there feeling better and more empowered and realizing it’s about how you feel and not what you see in the mirror or what other people tell you they see. My thing has been empowering women. … This was the exact message I wanted. … Realizing that your voice matters, not to doubt yourself, to speak up and not start your sentences with, ‘I’m sorry but.'”
For such a high-concept premise, it was important for filmmakers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein to show Schumer’s actual reflection in the mirror, rather than a gimmick image.
“That was really important to all of us: that you never saw some alt-version of me, like a Giselle, like some busted chick like Giselle,” Schumer joked in a money soundbyte. “That’s gonna be the pull quote of this and I know that: ‘Amy Schumer calls Giselle busted!'”
Playing two roles in one, Schumer crafts a different body language for each version.
“I just try to get myself in the right mental state and then just live it out,” Schumer said. “So I listened to a lot of Beyoncé for one, then a lot of Nick Drake for the other. I’d just think about the moments in my life where I felt the most insecure or a comment somebody said when I was a kid that just took me down. But on the other end of that spectrum, just Beyoncé.”
This newfound confidence earns her a dream job with a high-end fashion designer, played with a hilariously high-pitched voice by Michelle Williams, mostly known for dramatic roles.
“She really surprised us,” Schumer said. “You think of a dramatic actress, incredible. Then the first time I met her, I went into her trailer just to say hi and talk about the voice a little bit. She did it for me kind of like, ‘What do you think?’ and I’m crying laughing. She was so funny. You really can’t judge an Oscar nominee by their … I don’t know where I’m going with this.”
“By their Oscar nominations,” co-star Rory Scovel chimed in for the save.
Just like that, Schumer has a shorthand chemistry with Scovel, who plays her boyfriend Ethan. In the film, they meet at a dry cleaner as Schumer cleans vomit off a blouse. In real life, Schumer met Scovel on the stand-up comedy circuit 12 years ago auditioning for the Montreal Comedy Festival during auditions at the Comic Strip comedy club in New York City.
“(We) got there too early and they told us to get out of the way while the other show was finishing, so we went next door and got a drink,” Scovel joked. “I said, ‘I’ve got this idea for a movie for 14 years from now! You wait until your time!’ … Having known each other for a long time was definitely a benefit to walking into uncharted territory for myself. It was great.”
Their familiarity helps to make them a believable couple on screen, particularly during an utterly adorable picnic scene, sitting on a blanket waiting for an outdoor movie screening.
“I hate seeing couples in movies that you’re just like c’mon,” Schumer said, to which Scovel added, “Marc and Abby had a great script, but also they were great with spotting the fact that we could play well off each other. To let us even do that makes it more believable. We create a better chemistry naturally than trying to specifically hit these lines or these jokes.”
The chemistry works in part because both are so willing to be self-deprecating. On his very first day of filming, Scovel had to snap a goofy picture to flash up on Schumer’s iPhone.
“I put on that outfit and they told me to kick my leg as high as I can kick it,” Scovel said. “I thought, ‘I don’t know what this movie is!’ I’m pretty shocked how high I got my leg.”
Likewise, Schumer is uproariously self-deprecating during a dance competition at the bar.
“She had to really completely let go and do these moves in front of a bar filled with people; a lot of people watching her dance over and over again,” Scovel said. “It was time to get my coverage. Amy felt that … to get a genuine shocked reaction, which was what I was supposed to give, she suddenly took her pants off and still continued to dance behind the camera.”
“Not Porky Pig,” Schumer clarified. “I had underwear on.”
You might recognize a few moves from her New York Knicks dance in “Trainwreck” (2015).
“Wow, that is possible … because I did call Danielle Flora, who choreographed the ‘Trainwreck’ dance. She gave me the moves to do because those are not just in me. I usually dance like an aunt at a wedding surprising herself with her moves like, ‘Whoa, who knew I had this in me?'”
Those moves may have been honed up at Towson University, where she attended college.
“Oh man, so many blackouts in Fells Point,” Schumer said. “Just a lot of late nights at the Green Turtle. Or, there used to be (a bar called) 723, which had quarter bottles, which is so dangerous. So my dancing was probably just like trying to find a cab to take me home.”
Of course, the film isn’t all fun and games. One screwball scenario becomes surprisingly emotional, as Schumer snaps out of her trance, worries that she looks like her former self and tries to sabotage a date with Scovel, who knows that she’s always looked the same.
“He thinks that we’re role playing,” Schumer said. “I’m so glad that was your favorite scene. We’ve gone to a lot of test screenings and that scene has been really killing in the theater.”
Like any high-concept comedy, there are always minor things to nitpick. Shouldn’t the “New Renee” question why she is able to wear the same sized clothes? It’s never addressed, nor does it really have to be. Such logic holes might turn off some more serious-minded critics, but if the goal of a comedy is to make us laugh, this one hits the mark. To paraphrase a different “I Feel Pretty” — “It’s charming. Oh so charming. It’s alarming how charming it feels.”