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Thursday 19 September 2019

I Feel Pretty movie review: 'Thinks big but ultimately falls flat because it lacks the courage of its convictions'

Also reviewed: Lean on Pete, The Young Karl Marx, and A Cambodian Spring

Rory Scovel and Amy Schumer in I Feel Pretty
Rory Scovel and Amy Schumer in I Feel Pretty
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

A body image comedy with some strong ideas, Abby John and Marc Silverman's I Feel Pretty thinks big but ultimately falls flat because it lacks the courage of its convictions. It also manages to squander the formidable comic talent of Amy Schumer, who proved conclusively that she can carry this sort of film in Trainwreck. She does her best here and bares all in a role that leaves no room for vanity.

Renee Bennett feels oppressed by the world and is crippled by a lack of physical confidence. She's on the chubby side, and takes every throwaway remark as a personal slight. She has good friends and a tolerable job, but her dearest wish is to wake up beautiful. She's granted it, after a fashion, when she bumps her head at the gym and becomes convinced she's gorgeous. Suddenly brimming with confidence, she patronises her 'plain' friends, gets a boyfriend and lands a job as a receptionist at a top Manhattan cosmetics company.

There, her cheerful swagger wins over her glamorous boss, Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams), who quickly promotes her. But Renee's new life is built on an illusion which will sooner or later fade.

Clearly inspired by the 80s classic Big (which it references), and films like Shallow Hal, I Feel Pretty tries to have it both ways. Early on we are clearly invited to mock Renee's appearance and most of the film's comedy stems from the fact she thinks she's stunning, but isn't. All of this makes a last minute rallying cry for females of all shapes and sizes ring hollow. Worse than that, though, I Am Pretty isn't very funny.

I Feel Pretty (12A, 112mins) **

Lean On Pete (15A, 127mins) ****

Charlie Plummer is a fine young actor and delivers his most complete performance to date in Lean On Pete, Andrew Haigh's low-key drama based on a novel by Willy Vlautin. Neglected by his hard-drinking single father, Charley Thompson (Plummer) is at a loose end till he meets a weather-beaten horse trainer called Del (Steve Buscemi) and offers to work for him. Charley proves a natural with the animals and forms a particular attachment to an aging racehorse, Lean On Pete.

But Pete has seen better days and when Del decides it's time to get rid of him, Charley makes a bold and desperate decision. Chloe Sevigny co-stars as a kindly female jockey, and Haigh's spare screenplay and unfussy direction lend the production a bleak poetry. Expect to see a lot more of Charlie Plummer.

The Young Karl Marx (No Cert, IFI, 118mins) ****

Thinking of Karl Marx as a real, passionate, earthy, funny man is a bit like imagining Jesus having sex. But sex he had (Marx I mean, not Christ) and lots of children, and in Raoul Peck's warm and engaging biopic, we're given an intriguing insight into the great man's formative years. He was not the first communist, but would eventually become the most influential, especially after he joined forces with Frederick Engels, the smart and wealthy son of a German industrialist.

Young Karl Marx explores the early course of a friendship that would change the world. August Diehl is well cast as a ragged, bellicose Marx, Stefan Konarske is Engels, Vicky Krieps is Marx's sainted wife, and Olivier Gourmet is terrific as the avuncular French communist Proudhon. Their impassioned debates make communism seem such an attractive idea: good job Marx and Engels didn't live to see the horrors committed in their names.

A Cambodian Spring (15A, 126mins) ****

And finally, a word about A Cambodian Spring, Chris Kelly's fine documentary filmed over six years in the Boeung Kak region of Cambodia. In 2009, the Cambodian government leased a large part of the area to the Shukaku corporation, which proceeded to fill the beautiful Boeung Kak lake with sand and begin razing the homes of nearby villagers. Two working class mothers and a Buddhist monk joined forces to mount a heroic protest, which is charted by this moving, evocative film.

Also out this week: Tully movie review: 'attempts a daring storytelling trick and pretty much gets away with it'

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