Now that Molly Ringwald has renounced The Breakfast Club — writing in The New Yorker this month, she condemned its “inappropriate” messaging about sexual abuse — it seems safe to say that screen comedy is dangling by a thread. As noted earlier, Hollywood has boosted its roster of wide-release comedies by more than a third this year, after a notably weak showing in 2017. So far, one of those new comedies, Warners’ Game Night, ranks in the year’s box office Top 10. But the real test will come on April 20, when Amy Schumer — flanked by the competing Super Troopers 2 from Fox Searchlight — goes up against her Internet critics with, of all things, a body-image comedy, I Feel Pretty, from STX Entertainment.
While reserving judgment about a movie I haven’t seen, this clearly won’t be a pretty fight. Exactly 0.8 seconds on Google turns up a screen full of discontent, focused mostly on a trailer that shows Schumer’s supposedly overweight character, Renee Barrett, absurdly believing, as the result of a head injury, that she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. Putting aside the still-blank Rotten Tomatoes entry, the top-ranked “review” is a rant, posted on a Cosmopolitan website, that opens with a headlined obscenity, and works its way through a multi-count indictment of the film promo. “To me,” says the writer, “it reads like a big flashy sign saying ‘DO YOU LOOK LIKE AMY SCHUMER? YOU SHOULD HATE YOURSELF.’ Which, frankly, is insulting to anyone and everyone — from Amy herself all the way to women that are larger, less able-bodied, less cis and less white, AKA, all the things that are promoted in society to be ‘better.’”
In the next Google entry, Common Sense Media warns about the raunch factor. From there, it becomes a laundry list of articles noting that the trailer hasn’t landed well with those who keep an eye on body-image bias — never mind Schumer’s own professed comfort in her own skin, and the movie’s seemingly positive marketing message, “Change everything, without changing anything.”
Lucky for Martin Lawrence that he made Big Momma’s House, and its well-attended fat-suit sequel, before the current Cultural Revolution taught us that comedy must be normative, right down to the trailer beats. “If attitudes toward female subjugation are systemic, and I believe that they are,” lectures Ringwald, “it stands to reason that the art we consume and sanction plays some part in reinforcing those same attitudes.”
Released today, The Hangover would have to answer for all that drunken white privilege. And only the bravest among us can ask, like Schumer, that we actually laugh at ourselves.