The big, fat lie about normal women as told by Hollywood
The message that confidence trumps beauty is lost
It was a post-Weinstein spring of TimesUp and MeToo and what does the latest female-centric blockbuster from an apparently reformed Hollywood – I Feel Pretty – offer us? Yet another film obsessed with the least interesting element of the female experience: her looks.
After Pretty Woman (1990), with its sanitised, and insane, discussion of the reality of a prostitute’s life – “I want the fairytale,” said Julia Roberts, a woman who could never be a streetwalker – and Die Hard (1988), in which a woman is punished for a promotion by having her office invaded by terrorists, it’s been customary to expect little from Hollywood.Mainstream movies find it hard to traffic in feminism or intellect of any stripe and when they try the results are usually gruesome. But that was supposed to change in 2018. The critical, or guilty, viewer of romcoms was promised something new, and interesting, in the ashes of Weinstein’s career.
So here is I Feel Pretty. It stars the clever comic duckling Amy Schumer as Renee Bennett, a woman whose looks define her, and not in a benevolent way. Men – or rather Tinder representations of men – won’t date her, barmen won’t serve her and a promotion is denied her – all due to her shocking resemblance to a real female.
She looks at the beautiful – I mean thin and small-featured – women around her with the open-mouthed adoration of a teenager about to swallow a lie. Is she joking? I don’t think so. Schumer is a gifted performer and writer (she didn’t write I Feel Pretty). Yet her Renee yearns for the brittle perfection of the Hollywood goddess, and that world of pain.Why Hollywood doesn’t make a film about female Oxford dons and their physical inadequacies and their bicycles I know not. Perhaps they think no one would watch it, and they did it already with Iris (2001), which was really a film about dementia.
But salvation is at hand via head injury. Renee is not just un-beautiful. She is a prat-faller. (Un-beautiful girls must have “good personalities” in Hollywood and falling over is an indication of a good personality. At least she’s not proud!)
She falls off her exercise bicycle, rips out some hair and awakes to discover she thinks she is beautiful. This leaves a bitter taste, because it could have been written by the cast of Mean Girls: the ugly girl thinks she’s beautiful! L is for Loser and whatever cod self-help comes later, this is the gag of the film.Next comes the victim blaming section, or Act 2. Now Renee thinks she is beautiful, the man wants to date her, the barman serves her and the promotion comes at her firm, which is a cosmetic company. What else could it be but a workplace in which the viewer can gawp at hot, thin girls?
And it’s the confidence that makes her life better, the confidence she could have had if she hadn’t been so shallow as to care about not being beautiful enough for Hollywood, and in a Hollywood film. It’s like locking a woman in a box and complaining that she doesn’t have a key to escape.
Tully, in which Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a blobby mother of three who is rescued by her nanny, will also be on circuit soon. For the part Theron gained 25kg, and that, in the Hollywood press, is a talking point to rival Iran. Any fluff can be written, you see, as long as it is about the body of a woman.If Hollywood wanted to redeem itself and convince women they don’t have to embody the ideal of beauty that they invented, and sold, there are many things they could do. They could stop commissioning grisly self-help films set in cosmetic companies and hire a normal-sized actress to play a normal-sized woman, rather than hiring Charlize Theron, who then publicises the film by talking about how crisps made her feel ill.
They could make films that mirror women’s lives and hire talented actresses, not goddesses plus 22kg, to play them. But Hollywood is the most risk-averse place on earth, MeToo or no. They said TimesUp. They didn’t mean it.
© The Daily Telegraph