The new character-driven comedy I Feel Pretty stars Amy Schumer as an insecure young woman who wants to succeed in the cosmetics industry but lacks the confidence to follow her dreams. After falling off a spin bike at a Soul Cycle class, she hits her head and the switcheroo begins. Now when she looks in the mirror, she sees a woman who’s “undeniably beautiful,” full of poise and potential.
Writing (and now directing) duo, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein are known for their work in the comedy genre. Films like Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You and How to Be Single are just a few of their screenplays that have made it to the big screen.
What’s striking about I Feel Pretty is not only the emotional depth written into the protagonist, Renee Bennett (Schumer), but the honest and vulnerable performance given by Schumer who’s best known for more broad comedy.
“We were really blown away by her ability to not just do the humor,” says Kohn, “but to find the emotional realities this character goes through in life.”
The same can be said for the character Avery LeClaire, a third generation cosmetics-magnate played by Michelle Williams, whose commitment to creating a multilayered character adds legs to the film. And she’s hilarious.
Though I Feel Pretty might sound like the brainchild of Amy Schumer herself, it wasn’t. The idea was all Kohn and Silverstein’s and when they pitched it to Schumer, she loved it. But there was one element of the story that needed to be addressed: after Renee hits her head and believes herself to be appealing in every way, does her on-screen physical appearance actually change? Would Schumer’s image be replaced by that of a size 2 supermodel?
“Pretty much from the get-go, we all agreed that we would never see what [Renee] sees in the mirror. We felt pretty strongly that it would undermine the message of the movie,” says Kohn.
Silverstein agrees. “That’s sort of the funny double read of the movie. Watching it the first time, it’s a play on those movies where someone has turned into something else.”
Think Big or Shallow Hal.
But watching the movie a second time, according to Silverstein, “She’s looking at herself and feeling [super confident] and that’s sort of the goal with life. To look in the mirror and say ‘look at all this great stuff I’ve got!’ That’s the message we’re going for and it doesn’t work if you show something else in the mirror.”
Given that Kohn and Silverstein have been writing comedy together for two decades, I asked about the constantly changing comedy genre, because what studios were looking for five years ago, are not what they are looking for now.
“There are cycles that movies go through,” says Kohn. “Right now, we’re at the end –or near the end – of a cycle of hard ‘R’ studio comedies, something that wasn’t being pushed as much when we got into the biz. They were making more character comedies. They usually had romance in them but maybe that wasn’t the thrust of the story. I feel semi-confident that those are coming back again.”
Kohn and Silverstein met in grad school in the film department at USC. They started working together and got their big break when their 25-minute-long romantic comedy screened in a student showcase at the DGA.
“We got upwards of 100 calls the next day,” says Kohn. “We then started taking meetings, signed with a manager we’re still with and then three months later, we pitched Never Been Kissed and sold that.”
Their advice for writing comedy is very practical. Kohn says, “Especially in the rom-com arena, it’s important your movie be about more than boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. You have to show that women have more going on than just getting the guy. Think about what things are meaningful to you that other people can relate to and let the comedy and originality come from that.”
Silverstein adds, “We’re successful in the genre because this is the genre we love and it’s very true to our voice.”
Kohn and Silverstein’s next project will be a feature-film-version of the 1970s TV show Three’s Company, which they describe as “Spike Jones’ Adaption meets 70s sitcom. It’s very meta.” I’m certainly intrigued.
I Feel Pretty is currently playing in theaters.