Once you get the premise of Amy Schumer's I Feel Pretty, you pretty much know the whole movie: Renee Bennett (Schumer) is an ordinary-looking woman who thinks she looks kind of awful but still manages to be happy hanging out with her two best friends, equally ordinary-looking but still hoping to find love.
Then Renee gets a bump on the head at a gym and it affects her brain by convincing her that she is drop-dead gorgeous, perfect body and perfect face. Exactly the woman she always wanted to be. She acts out the confidence and joy that this brings her, applies for the kind of job where being gorgeous is a requirement, and, because of her confidence in her own beauty, she's hired.
Nothing that anybody says fazes her. She interprets everything as an affirmation of her beauty; anybody who says otherwise is just jealous.
But because she still has her roots in the world of ordinary-looking women, she becomes valuable to the CEO of a cosmetics company -- Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams). Avery has a squeaky high voice that makes her sound like a stereotypical dumb blonde, and so she prefers to have other people do the talking.
Avery's grandmother, Lily LeClaire (Lauren Hutton), pulls the strings at the company and is both surprised and pleased that Avery has hired this vivid, enthusiastic, ordinary woman with an amazing self-image. Renee becomes their spokesman for a new line of cosmetics designed to be sold to ordinary women in Target stores.
Early on, I Feel Pretty shows Renee watching the moment in Big where the boy makes his wish to Zoltan and gets the fortune saying "Your wish is granted." And believe me, I Feel Pretty harks back to Big in many ways -- including having Renee get too cool for her old friends, hurting their feelings as she tries to "help" them because they're not as pretty as she is.
But I Feel Pretty goes beyond its roots in Big. When another (hilarious but scary) head bump ends her madness, she is devastated that she has lost all that beauty. Only near the very end of the movie does she realize that she was never drop-dead gorgeous. She always looked like the same woman. But when she acted like someone who thinks she's physically perfect, it completely worked, and she finally gets it.
Everything that happens is completely predictable, with only a few important differences.
1. The movie is funny, because it's well written and because:
2. The acting is superb, so that every character is believable. Nobody's over the top. Nobody acts like an escapee from an Adam Sandler movie or Airplane XVII.
Even the characters who are drop-dead gorgeous are written and acted like real people. Renee's friends are presented as good people who simply get tired of how Renee is now condescending and hurtful to them. Avery's gorgeous brother Grant (Tom Hopper, Dickon Tarly from Game of Thrones) is completely believable as a guy who is polite but assumes that Renee will be eager to hop into bed with him.
The heart and soul of this movie is the growing relationship between Renee and Ethan, a guy she meets by chance at the dry cleaner's. In her newfound confidence, she assumes he wants her phone number, so she gives it to him, and then takes him on a series of dates in which she fulfils every fantasy she had about life as a pretty woman. And he, despite knowing that she does not have the body she thinks she has, falls in love with her confidence and enthusiasm.
Rory Scovel is perfect as Ethan. He's the kind of actor you know you've seen, but you can't remember in what. But you'll remember him after I Feel Pretty, because we fall in love with him as the unfailingly kind if sometimes baffled Ethan.
And in case anybody wondered -- and after her triumphant performance in Trainwreck, nobody should have any doubt of it -- Amy Schumer is not a "mere" comedienne, she's an actress. A serious, generous, honest actress who never misses the exact right tone at every stage of this story.
Comedy works best when the acting is absolutely honest, so the actors and the characters never show that they know they're being funny. Amy Schumer is as good at this as Tom Hanks and David Moscow, playing Josh and Young Josh in Big, and that's saying a lot.
Big is thirty years old in 2018, and I think we've had enough time to determine that it's one of the great all-time comedies. So I know what it means to compare I Feel Pretty to Big. And I mean it.
Look, if you don't already love Amy Schumer, that's all right. Her early television appearances didn't show anything like the range and talent she shows here, so if you've seen her in other things and didn't like her, do yourself a favor and take a chance on I Feel Pretty.
Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, the writers and directors of I Feel Pretty, are the team that wrote the brilliant He's Just Not That Into You and the pretty darn good How to Be Single. So it's no surprise that their script is so amazingly wise and yet funny, cruel and yet kind.
But whether they wrote Renee with Amy Schumer in mind or not, it's hard to imagine any other actress playing this part. The script requires her to show off her body just like a model who knows she's glamorous and perfect -- which means that when Renee enters a bar's bikini contest, despite Ethan's urging her not to do it, the actress Amy Schumer has to be willing to show off her not-perfect body in various states of undress (though we never see more of her than we routinely see of women on the beach or in evening wear), and then move and dance and strut without a hint of self-consciousness.
She holds back nothing -- she plays the part as it has to be played. She's as generous with her body as Chris Farley was -- though it's only fair to point out that Schumer is in way better shape than Farley ever was.
Here's the miracle of this movie. There are no mirror tricks. They never show us the body she thinks she has. We only imagine it, based solely on Amy Schumer's performance.
Because Amy Schumer plays this part perfectly, we are as convinced of her real beauty as Ethan is. She acts as if her body were perfect, so we realize that she is, in fact, perfectly acceptable with the body she has.
In other words, she kind of has a bikini body after all. Or rather, she convinces us that with the right level of confidence and panache, she can be sexy and funny and likeable in a two-piece that shows off her perfectly ordinary midriff.
Will everybody like this movie? I can't think why not. For women who don't think they're drop-dead gorgeous, I Feel Pretty falls somewhere between a user's manual and an affirmation.
But it isn't aimed just at women. Because, after all, plenty of guys are also keenly aware of how little we look like underwear models, and can go through life with the same hangdog sense of inadequacy as any self-deprecating woman.
So it's a deft touch when Mason, Renee's erstwhile co-worker, watches her tour-de-force presentation at the end and clearly gets the fact that the things Renee learned apply just as much to him as to any woman.
In fact, Adrian Martinez, the actor who plays Mason, is every bit as good in his small, surly-becoming-friendly role. Martinez has been in a lot of movies, always playing a character that you remember only as "the fat guy" or, if he has a bit more screen time, "the fat hispanic guy." But in I Feel Pretty, he has a character arc, we like him, and I think people will remember his character when the movie's over.
You want to know who the forgettable actors are? The ones who have the perfect, gorgeous bodies.
Here's a strange thing that happened. Busy Philipps, who played the sexy blonde friend/employee/daughter-in-law in Cougar Town, is billed as being in I Feel Pretty. But at the end of the movie, I couldn't remember ever seeing her.
This bothered me because I think she's a wonderful actress and I couldn't figure out what part she played. Was she one of the forgettable pretty women?
No. I was stunned to realize that she is one of Renee's original pair of ordinary-woman friends. Put a brunette wig on Busy Philipps, take away her confidence and dress her frumpily, and she disappears into the role. She's completely wonderful in Pretty, and proves that she doesn't have to rely on any of the sexy-girl shtick she relied on so effectively in Cougar Town.
Look, there will be people who can't get past the fact that real women usually don't have the perfect ten-pounds-underweight bodies that we constantly see on the screen. It isn't easy, in less than two hours, to completely transform the cultural values that have been pounded into us our whole lives.
But for me, at least, I Feel Pretty came close to overcoming that miserable training we've all been given in objectifying only a certain kind of female body as "desirable." Close enough for me.
Because some of Amy Schumer's comedy has been pretty coarse in the past, I need to prepare you for the fact that the script is relatively clean. There's nothing that the normal 13-year-old couldn't watch -- but they won't be showing it in Sunday school anytime soon.
But don't just take your daughters to see it as some sort of cultural vaccination. Take your sons as well, because they're every bit as much victimized by the perfect-body myth as girls are. I Feel Pretty will be transformative for them. They'll laugh; the mature ones will maybe cry a little; and wow, can you have some great conversations about what constitutes a "perfect" body.
It's a running gag in our house that whenever a new building is going up in Greensboro, it's either another Walgreen's or a mattress store.
The trouble is, we've had enough experience with mattresses in our married lives that we have learned that lying on a mattress in the store tells you exactly nothing about how well that mattress will work at home.
When you're in the store, every mattress feels pretty good because hey, you were standing or walking, and now you're lying down on a surface that isn't as hard as the floor.
We've run the gamut over the years. Waterbeds. Tempur-Pedic. Mattresses from specialty sleep stores.
And finally, for the past couple of mattresses, we've researched and chosen a mattress online.
As we got older, we both became sensitive to sleep posture, to the point that when we get up in the morning, it usually takes medication and a lot of walking around before the back pain is gone.
When your mattress hurts, and you dread lying down at night, it's definitely time for a new mattress.
When my wife ordered the "Luxury Hybrid Mattress" from WinkBeds (https://winkbeds.com,) it was pretty comfortable.
But after a few months, my wife reached the conclusion that for her, at least, the mattress just wasn't doing the job she needed.
Nothing wrong with the mattress -- it just didn't do anything for her back pain.
She researched to find the next mattress we were going to try, and then talked to a friend about how to dispose of the WinkBed Hybrid. After all, it was only a few months old.
"Right," said the friend. "So isn't it still under warranty?"
Um, yes. It was a hundred-day warranty, no questions asked, and we were only on day ninety. So my wife called the company and found out that not only would they refund the money we'd paid, they'd send somebody to pick up the mattress.
Then they'd donate it to people in need because, after all, it was unstained and looked brand new, so it would be ridiculous to waste it.
So here's the thing: A lot of people would be happy with the WinkBeds Hybrid -- it's well-designed and well-made for the people whose bodies sleep well on that mattress. The fact that we aren't those people says nothing bad about the mattress. And they live up to their warranty.
When they originally delivered it, they had an affordable white-glove installation and set-up package, so working with these folks was a pleasure in every way.
The next bed my wife found is from AmeriSleep (https://www.amerisleep.com,) an "eco-friendly memory foam mattress."
This was also an easy company to work with online and, when my wife had questions, they responded very well on the phone, too.
The mattress arrived in a box that was definitely not mattress-sized. When you open up the cardboard box, the mattress is compressed and rolled up inside plastic.
But it's just as heavy as a mattress, so it wasn't something we wanted to try to get upstairs ourselves.
So some youthful friends came over to help us by carrying that plastic bag of rolled-up mattress up the stairs and then popping it open on the box springs. Kind of exhilarating to watch it unfold itself.
AmeriSleep doesn't provide the friends. But what it does provide is the mattress that turned out to be right for us. A couple of weeks into sleeping on this bed, morning back pain is no longer a problem. I can actually lie on my back in bed without ending up with agonizing pain, and my wife feels better in the mornings than she has for years.
Will it work for you? That's a question that nobody can answer for somebody else. You just have to try it and see.
(And let me point out that on the websites, there's no capital letter in the middle. It's just winkbeds and amerisleep. But I find that hard to read, so in this column, I capitalized for clarity: WinkBeds and AmeriSleep. That makes it way easier to read and remember the name. Which is why they should have capitalized it that way themselves.)
ABC's revival of American Idol has, in my view, been a splendid success. When the judges selected their "final fourteen" contestants, I think they made the right choices. When the viewing public started voting, I didn't always agree with their preferences, but because the whole slate of contestants was so good, it was not possible for the voters to make a lousy choice.
That's right, everybody's good. Very good.
This isn't anywhere near as along a season as it used to be, though. They're compressing the contest by eliminating multiple contestants each week. And there's no separate results show.
Instead, viewers vote during the show. They can change their votes up to the final commercial break. At the end of the break, the computers spit out the results, and presto: There are the names of the contestants who are still on the show for the coming week.
This means, of course, that viewers who delay viewing by TiVo-ing or DVR-ing it don't get to vote. If you're not watching in real time, you aren't voting, period.
This is actually popular with advertisers, because watching in realtime means you can't fast-forward through the commercials.
The favorites right now are completely credible -- they're likely to have careers whether they win or not. Gabby Barrett sings a lot more than country -- but she does country just fine, thanks. Cade Foehner is a long-haired rocker who has all the chops -- but we've had plenty of footage showing him as an honest-to-goodness hardworking farm boy, too.
Maddie Poppe may be the best vocal performer on the show this year -- and that's saying a lot. When she takes on a song, it becomes something new and, usually, amazing.
Michael J. Woodard is a charmer like Fik-Shun from So You Think You Can Dance. Yes, he can sing, sweetly and soulfully -- but the main thing is you just flat out like him.
Caleb Lee Hutchinson is a country boy who used to be a fat kid (we've got the pictures) but he got tired of feeling bad all the time and he started exercising and lost the weight. The thing is, fat or thin, this lad can sing country, and it's always fun to hear his take on songs from every genre. A country version of "When Doves Cry"? Why not?
When they were trimming from ten contestants to seven, we lost a couple of my favorites -- which often happens on "reality" contests. I thought Dennis Lorenzo, besides having a compelling personal story, was also the best male singer on the show.
Except for Ada Vox, who was born Adam Sanders. Under that name, and as a man, he almost made the Idol cut several years ago. This time around, he showed up in drag under his stage name Ada Vox, and his voice was amazing. For a woman, Ada Vox's range was excellent; for a man, it was astonishing. His high notes didn't sound like falsetto. They were pure and strong. Yet he could still sing low and, in the middle, he could really belt.
On voice alone, Ada Vox was the best singer on the show, period. But having the best voice doesn't always guarantee a win. I'm not going to speculate on why Ada Vox didn't get enough votes to stay in the top seven. After all, you don't get to vote against anybody, so you can't say Ada Vox was rejected. She just didn't have enough enthusiastic supporters to stay in the contest.
But I want the Ada Vox album. With the possible exception of Adam Lambert, Ada Vox may have the best voice ever on American Idol.
Now we're down to five, and from this point on, I don't really care who wins, because all these singers are outstanding. And because they sing so differently -- and in different genres -- they really can't be compared to each other in any meaningful way.
The judges -- Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan -- are splendid. None of them is a Simon Cowell, being needlessly offensive in the effort to be "real." If you listen carefully, you'll see that all three of them are able to deliver some genuinely good advice and, by implication, some spot-on critiques. But because they state things kindly, it's possible to completely miss the fact that a critique has been delivered.
Doesn't matter. They're smart, funny, and honestly enthusiastic. They seem to get along with each other. Katy Perry is the star of the panel because her personality is so ebullient, but I've started listening to Luke Bryan, too; and because I was alive in the 1980s, I already loved Lionel Richie's music, with or without the Commodores.
It's a good show. Help keep this excellent new version on the air by watching it while you still can. It has only a few weeks left.
I just saw a brilliant life insurance commercial on TV. It was during a program that I was not recording, so I can't look back to find the name of the company.
The best thing about the commercial is that at no point was it annoying. No Flo from Progressive, no gecko from Geiko.
It starts with a teenage boy hearing his mother talking on the phone about her worries -- how to make the house payments, worries about the children.
We see the boy get on his bike and ride down to an old-fashioned store with kids hanging out in the parking lot. What's he going to do?
Then we see the mother again, opening an envelope, taking something out. The boy comes in and hands his mother a check. "I got a job," he says. "To help with the house."
Then she shows him another check. The one she took out of that envelope. She hugs him. "Your father took care of us," she says.
And then the name of the insurance company.
I have never seen a more effective ad for insurance. The boy taking responsibility to help his mom was moving, especially because we didn't see it coming. But then the mother's obvious relief: The payment from her husband's insurance company was clearly going to be enough to pay off the house and provide for the kids' education.
If I didn't already have a lot of life insurance, that commercial would have made me buy some right away.
And the fact that right now I can't remember the name of the company means nothing. I remembered it right after I saw the commercial. I still remembered it fifteen minutes later. They did their job.
But I misplaced it in my memory on the way upstairs to write this column. That's not the fault of the advertising agency. That's the fault of my being old and horribly forgetful about names anyway.
It isn't one of the familiar insurance company names. But you'll know the ad when you see it. It's proof that you can sell insurance in a powerful way without touting how much you can save in fifteen minutes, and without having an obnoxious character that you can't unsee even though he or she makes you want to jab your eyes out.
There wasn't even a jingle, like "We are Farmers, Tum-te-dum-dum-tum-pum-pum." (Which is a great jingle, by the way, and I like the stories they act out in those insurance ads. One of the least obnoxious insurance company ad campaigns.)
When you google "heartwarming insurance commercials" all you get are links to some Thai insurance commercials. Apparently Thailand has cornered the market on sweet ads.
But watch for it. It's a testament to telling a complete story in less than thirty seconds.
on the art and business of science fiction writing.
Over five hours of insight and advice.
Recorded live at Uncle Orson's Writing Class in Greensboro, NC.
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