It may not be a great comedy, but I Feel Pretty, the new Amy Schumer vehicle, contains at least one great performance—and its not by the movies star.
To recap, this is a movie about an insecure singleton named Renee Bennett (Schumer), who hits her head in spin class and wakes up feeling like a new woman: a hot woman. Renee works in the basement office of LeClaire Cosmetics, a high-end brand whose shock-blonde, squeaky-voiced C.E.O., Avery LeClaire, is played by Michelle Williams.
It only takes about five seconds for Williams to walk away with the film—or, rather, skip away, in a slow-motion shot that captures her capering, with stupid glee, into a crucial staff meeting like its “take your kid to work day“ and shes the kid. We know by this point that the LeClaire family is intimidatingly famous. Averys grandmother, Lily (Lauren Hutton), towers over the companys history and reputation with model-esque poise and old-school know-how; her hot brother, Grant (Tom Hopper), is often plastered on the covers of tabloids, typically with a Brazilian model or two in tow. The LeClaire office, meanwhile, is staffed by mean-mugging models-to-be, sentient mannequins practically clutching their heels to each others necks.
The joke, one gathers, is that Avery LeClaire—primped but mousy, Wharton-educated but with the breathy voice of an airhead—should seem like an unlikely C.E.O., particularly coming from such a cut-throat dynasty. The real joke, however, is on the movie. Its Williams who emerges from the movie feeling reinvented, as if it were she—not Schumers character—whod conked her head and woken up in the body of someone else. Her performance here is thoroughly divorced from the world-class whimpering she displayed in Manchester By the Sea, and the sphinx-like survivalism of her roles in a masterful trio of Kelly Reichardt movies (Wendy and Lucy,Meeks Cutoff, and Certain Women). Theres no ugly cry here, no Blue Valentine emo-trauma. And thats refreshing.
It isnt that anyone thought Williams—a four-time Oscar nominee and one of the essential stars of mid-budget American dramas—didnt have a comic part in her. Its that movies have so rarely given her a chance to flex this muscle. As a teenager, she charmed in 1999s Nixon-era spoof Dick (alongside the also-funny, also-underutilized Kirsten Dunst), and in the cult classic But Im a Cheerleader. All five people whove seen 2005s super-indie Michael Showalter comedy The Baxter also know firsthand that Williams has it in her to be a real kook. But thats just not where her career has taken her, which says as much about the industry as it does about Williamss ability to come out swinging—even when the stakes are as low as they seem to be in this movie.
Watching her, I was reminded of the last time Williams laid waste to our expectations: when she took on the sad, sexy role of Sally Bowles in the 2014 Broadway revival of Bob Fosses Cabaret, alongside Alan Cummingss bedazzled emcee. Williams can sing and dance, sort of—a brief but simpering musical turn in 2011s My Weekend With Marilyn, where she starred as Marilyn Monroe, hinted at as much. But Sally Bowles isnt really a role for a true triple threat, which is why Williams proved strangely right for it—even as she was wrong for it. Liza Minnelli notwithstanding, anyone who plays Sally like a high-kicking superstar rather than a washed, tragically aspirational heroine should be viewed with suspicion. It was better for Williams that her “Gotta sing! Gotta dance!” acumen didnt overwhelm—better that you could actively see her stretching just past what she was capable of, to give us someone flawed, complicated, needy.
The role of Avery LeClaire feels like a stretch, too, but Williams makes a meal of it, and the purest pleasure of I Feel Pretty is getting to watch her dine. She slinks and creeps; she whips out an arsenal of head tilts and bourgeois airiness like weve never seen from her before. Her voice, meanwhile, is practically stratospheric—unbecoming enough that you understand, instantly, why no one takes her character seriously. Honestly, its exhausting—and revealing. If Williams, a bona fide talent whose best roles to date are nevertheless well within her means, can emerge out of nowhere with a performance like this, what else is she hiding? The best possible outcome of I Feel Pretty would be a flight of Williams roles that gave us something new to see.
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