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Updated: 2018-04-25T08:44:36-05:00


Second Season of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” Off to Brilliant Start


When the first season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” premiered exactly one year ago today on Hulu, President Donald Trump had already begun inadvertently making America great again. The misogyny he spewed and empowered in his supporters spurred those who would normally remain on the sidelines to take to the streets. The Women’s March that occurred worldwide the day after the president’s inauguration served as a prelude to the #MeToo movement, which went viral last October, as charges of sexual harassment took down the careers of men who had previously appeared invincible. In between all of this, HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” and Frances McDormand’s portrayal of Mildred Hayes in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” embodied the defiant spirit of female-led activism culminating in the founding of the #TimesUp movement on New Year’s Day of 2018. There’s no question that creator Bruce Miller’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel couldn’t have been released at a more appropriate time. Its portrayal of a totalitarian society created by theonomist Christians to overthrow American democracy will be seen as one of the definitive works of the Trump era. The ten episodes of its first season took a simultaneously harrowing and invigorating look at how to fight against the normalization of oppression while maintaining one’s sanity in the process.  As June Osborne, a woman whose fertility has caused her to be enslaved as a Handmaid (a.k.a. reproductive surrogate) in the Republic of Gilead, Elisabeth Moss further cements her status as one of the great actors of our time. Few performers are as adept at revealing the depths of their character’s inner life in a single glance, and Moss is especially gifted at illuminating the glint of rebellion tucked beneath the placid surface of her expression. She has made a career out of playing women who refuse to be broken by men, whether they be the sexist ad executives in “Mad Men” or the insufferable boyfriend in “Listen Up Philip.” There is a scene in that film, directed by Moss’ frequent collaborator Alex Ross Perry, that encapsulates her genius. After she finally breaks up with her boyfriend and he storms out of her apartment, Perry holds the camera on Moss as a multitude of conflicting feelings—relief, sorrow, satisfaction, remorse—ripple across her face. This skill is crucial for a character like June, who must spend much of the time repressing her true feelings when in the persona of “Offred,” her designated name as a Handmaid.  Like “Big Little Lies,” a miniseries that has now grown into a multi-season show, “The Handmaid’s Tale” ended its first season at the same place that its source material did, with Offred boarding a vehicle without knowing where it would be taking her, though any mode of escape from her Commander, Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), and his vindictive wife, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), is most welcome. The note that Miller chose to end on was one of uncertainty, a fitting reflection of our current sociopolitical landscape in which nothing is guaranteed. Whether the subsequent episodes will follow in step with Atwood’s epilogue remains to be seen, though on the basis of the six episodes from season two made available to critics, Miller’s show is expanding its narrative while remaining as provocative and riveting as ever. The frightening opening sequence calls to mind the Kafkaesque nightmare of Orson Welles’ “The Trial,” as handmaids are ordered to walk through a tunnel, their path illuminated only by light streaming through slats of wood. When they emerge on the other end, they find themselves in Fenway Park, which has been reconfigured into an arena for executions. Relics of the free press and free speech can be observed in the abandoned Boston Globe building (now used as a slaughterhouse) and a dusty DVD of “Friends” (made during the days when erogenous zones were acceptable fodder for jokes). We also hear footage of the Red Sox w[...]

Avengers: Infinity War


For a 160-minute epic that unifies a far-flung superhero universe that took a decade to build, packs 76 characters into one story, and has four to six plotlines cooking at any given time, "Avengers: Infinity War" hangs together pretty well. The plot finds the intergalactic bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his army of Green Goblin-looking warriors bouncing from star system to star system, torturing and killing various adversaries in order to gather six super-powerful Infinity Stones and embed them in Thanos' oversized glove. Once he's collected all six, Thanos will be able to achieve his dream of wiping out half the population of the universe in order to preserve its precious resources and restore "balance." The only thing standing in his way are the Avengers, led by Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chis Evans) and the rest. Plus all the characters from "Black Panther." And the ones from "Guardians of the Galaxy." And a few more Marvel characters who are new to this film. Co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, co-writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, their small army of actors, and their hundreds of filmmaking collaborators have managed to get on the same page and stay on it. The film's running time doesn't fly by, exactly, but it rarely seems to stall out, which is impressive when you consider how many of the movie's big scenes consist of people talking, sometimes emoting, in close-up. The Russos swagger headfirst into melodrama here, more blatantly than in any previous Marvel film they've directed, though there are problems with their approach that I'll outline in a moment. The gambit works, mostly, because the story is an operatic tragedy that necessarily has to end with the heroes in a deep, dark place. In light of all this, it's inevitable (and in no way a spoiler to reveal here) that not every character makes it out alive, and that if you come away from the movie feeling bummed out and anxious rather than elated, that means "Infinity War" has done its job, just as "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One" did their jobs. If only the film were better modulated, or perhaps longer, or more elegantly shaped, or ... well, it's hard to say exactly what's wrong here. But something's not up to snuff. This is, as many have pointed out, one half of a story broken in two, but it feels like less than half somehow. Until pretty recently, MCU films have suffered from collective curve-grading—each film seemed content to settle for "better than expected," as opposed to being really, truly good—and that feeling returns here, unfortunately. "Infinity War" faced so many challenges, many of them unique to this particular project, that it's a small miracle that it works at all. On some level, it feels ungrateful to ask a movie that already does the impossible to do it with more panache. But what are superhero movies without panache really good for? If there was ever a moment to swing for the fences, it was this one. I like how the movie builds everything around Brolin's CGI-assisted but still fully inhabited performance as Thanos—an oddly wistful and lonely figure who is, essentially, a religious fanatic, yet carries himself with the calm certainty of a military man who's read the ancient Greeks and speaks tenderly to cadets while stepping on their necks. (Thanos' second-in-command, the snide and hateful space wizard Ebony Maw—played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor—makes an equally strong impression, though he doesn't have many scenes.) Some of the movie's most affecting and/or frightening moments see Thanos tormenting captive heroes (including Zoe Saldana's Gamora and her sister Nebula, played by Karen Gillan) until they disclose the location of the stones, or forcing them to consider killing themselves (or having others kill them) to stop Thanos from achieving his dream. The movie treats Thanos as an agent of pure ch[...]

Ebertfest 2018: Table of Contents



With the conclusion of the 20th Roger Ebert's Film Festival (Ebertfest), we've gathered all of our coverage on this past week's panels, guests and film presentations. Included is the work of Chaz Ebert, Brian Tallerico, Nick Allen, Matt Fagerholm, Peter Sobczynski and our three Ebert Fellows, Niani Scott, Madeline Galassi and Tyler Panlilio.

Ebertfest 2018 Guests: Part I 

Ebertfest 2018 Guests: Part II

Dear Roger: I Can't Believe Our Film Festival is Twenty Years Old! by Chaz Ebert

Ebertfest 2018 Guests: Critical Mass

Ebertfest 2018, Day 1: Year 20 Starts with a Modern Action Classic by Brian Tallerico 

Ebertfest 2018, Day 2: Critics Panel, 'Interstellar,' 'Selena,' 'Belle' by Nick Allen

Ebertfest 2018: Eight Things I Learned about 'Belle' from Amma Asante by Ebert Fellow Niani Scott  

Ebertfest 2018, Day 3: 'Columbus,' 'A Page of Madness,' 'American Splendor' by Peter Sobczynski 

Ebertfest 2018: Ten Things I Learned from Kogonada about 'Columbus' by Ebert Fellow Tyler Panlilio

Ebertfest 2018: Nine Things I Learned About 'A Page of Madness' by Ebert Fellow Madeline Galassi 

Ebertfest 2018, Days 4 & 5: 'Daughters of the Dust,' 'The Big Lebowski,' '13th' and More by Matt Fagerholm

Ebertfest 2018: Ten Things I Learned from Kogonada About 'Columbus'



Kogonada’s directorial feature debut, “Columbus,” started day three of the 20th annual Roger Ebert Film Festival at the Virginia Theatre. The filmmaker introduced the film on stage just before it began, but kept it short and sweet. In the post-screening Q&A panel hosted by Matt Fagerholm and Nate Kohn, Kogonada and his producers offered detailed answers to every question presented.

The writer/director was as relaxed, calm and thoughtful as the film itself.

A slight nerd: “Because I read about it, and was a slight architecture nerd ... and had passed by Columbus (Indiana) so many times driving on 65 … I was so surprised I had never heard of this city as an architectural site.”

Location, location, location: “I visited the city and really immediately felt a sort of melancholy promise. It felt like the place itself was a story and I knew this was going to be the place for the story I was working on in my head.”

More than photos: “Often our relationship with architecture is through these really pictorial photographs that turn them into objects. But I knew by the end of shooting the buildings of ‘Columbus’ that we wouldn’t just experience them as photographs.”

One the one hand…: “So much of filmmaking is a choice of what you point at and when you decide something is over, and so often we are trying to remove all those moments that do not feel like drama or something that is exciting to us.”

On the other…: “Our lives, in comparison, are mostly about waiting and trying to find significance in that waiting.”

Amazing: “Because I’m surrounded by my producers and executive producers, I was sitting and watching this again and thought ‘it’s amazing to me that they allow me to spend their money, you know?’”


Choice: “There were so many choices that I made that I wanted to make, and they allowed me to make it — that’s a big deal.”

No Asians: “The longest part was trying to find financing … and then this female producer has the sensitivity to say yes to a project that has a lead as an Asian man. We brought this project to a number of other people, and one of the consistent things we found was no one wants to watch an Asian man as a lead.”

No fireballs: “This is a kind of film where you can’t hide behind a plot or explosions and there are gonna be a lot of moments where it’s just you.”

After the drama: “I do love films that take place narratively in the aftermath of the drama; I was so happy we didn’t make a film about when she was 15 and her mom was having all those difficulties — that wasn’t the subject. It was about a few years after that, and the kind of heartache that never leaves you.”

Tyler Panlilio is a 2017-18 Roger Ebert Fellow at the University of Illinois College of Media.

Ebertfest 2018: Nine Things I Learned About 'A Page of Madness'



On April 20th, “A Page of Madness” brought a silent realm of extreme ambiguity (to put it lightly) to the 20th annual Ebertfest. The experimental Japanese film, directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa, was released in 1926 and considered a lost film for four decades, before a print was discovered in 1971.

Set in an asylum, the silent feature does not have a clear narrative, and leaves countless questions for its audience while offering a completely sensory experience. The live musical score, written and performed by the three-person Alloy Orchestra, helped guide viewers’ emotions throughout.

The post-screening panel was moderated by University of Georgia film studies professor Richard Neupert and critic Nell Minow, and featured two members of the Alloy Orchestra, Terry Donahue and Ken Winokur.


Multiple interpretations: “The first five minutes can be interpreted about 18 different ways," Neupert said.

Embrace the craziness: “Because the narrative is so fractured, we didn’t want to force a narrative onto something that wasn’t there, which is why we just opened up into chaos,” said Donahue.

Clarity vs. dreamland: “In Japan, you have to script for censorship. But what Kurutta Ichipeiji ended up doing was just transcribing the imagery. But just because it was written down doesn’t mean the interpretations are clear at all,” said Neupert.

A first: “The guy who wrote the screenplay went on to become the first Japanese author to win the Nobel Prize,” said Minow.

Just go with it: “This score was more improvisationally based than some of our past films. We just went with what we saw and did it (the way) it made us feel. And you heard how it made us feel: a little bit uneasy,” said Winokur.

One word for it: “When I watch this movie it’s confusing and frustrating, but I’m actually quite captivated,” said Winokur.

Another word for it: “It’s traumatizing,” said Neupert.

No need to be linear: “The director said that all of his stories had a beginning, middle and end, that he just didn’t put them in that order. He said if you want to understand my film, just put it on again in a different order,” said Neupert.

Which explains why … : “The alternate title was ‘A Page Out Of Order,'” said Winokur.

Madeline Galassi is a 2017-18 Roger Ebert Fellow at the University of Illinois College of Media.

Ebertfest 2018: Eight Things I Learned About 'Belle' from Amma Asante



The Roger Ebert Film Festival celebrated its 20-year anniversary with 12 movies, six directed by women. The late 18th Century period drama “Belle” (2013) was directed by British-Ghanain filmmaker Amma Asante, and starred Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Belle, the West Indies-born biracial daughter of the nephew of the Lord Chief Justice of England. The Thursday night screening was followed by an onstage panel featuring Asante, critic and essayist Rebecca Theodore-Vachon, and Chaz Ebert, the festival’s co-founder. 

Eight things I learned about “Belle” from director Asante:

Father passed: The film’s fact-based relationship between Lord Mansfield and Dido was “an ode to my own father who passed away during the making of the film.”

Two English roses: The movie took inspiration from the 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. “Right when I looked at it, I saw two English roses. The same way roses come in many types, I wanted to say to you guys as an audience … let me also present to you an English rose you may have never seen before.”

Taking a seat: “By showing Elizabeth being at the table, I was able to really emphasize Dido not being at the table. I think that’s a great metaphor for today.” 

Something extra: "Gugu Mbatha-Raw has such a great presence. The key thing is that there were lots of amazing young women that were brilliant actresses. But what Gugu has is an innate elegance.”

The resume: “I didn’t go to film school. And I hope that’s a call to all young women and young men out there who didn’t go to film school.” 

Typing school: “I started as a child actress and I was terrible! I was so bad … when I was 21, I gave up acting but I didn’t want to leave the business. I wanted to continue to be in a world that told stories. So I started writing, mainly to get my typing speed up; my mom had sent me to typing college.”

Pseudonym: “I sent out (the screenplay) in the UK with my mother’s maiden name as a pseudonym because lots of producers in the UK know me as a child actress. And I didn’t think they would take me seriously."

More than coincidence?: “I was living in the Netherlands during the time that we were making the film, so I had to come over to the UK. So I had to find an apartment to rent. My sister came over to me and said: ‘Did you know the apartment you have chosen is on the very street John Davinier and Dido Belle lived when they first got married?’ London is not small, so for that to happen is incredible. I felt like that was Belle’s endorsement saying, ‘I’m cool with you telling my story.’”

Niani Scott is a 2017-18 Roger Ebert Fellow at the University of Illinois College of Media.

Ebertfest 2018, Days 4 & 5: “Daughters of the Dust,” “The Big Lebowski,” “13th” and More


Want indelible proof that great cinema is indeed timeless? Look no further than the films of Auguste and Louis Lumière, who captured images that manage to enlighten, amaze and in some cases, elicit belly laughs over a century after they were made. Day 4 of Ebertfest’s 20th anniversary installment opened with “The Lumière Brothers and the Birth of Cinema,” an hour-long lecture given by Richard Neupert, the professor whose marvelous introductions to silent classics are an annual highlight of the festival. His presentation on the trailblazing brothers included an expertly curated series of clips immortalized by their cameras. Viewers at the time couldn’t imagine how anyone would prefer the false, flat backdrops of theatre over movies showcasing the wonder of real life. Even veteran preservationist Barry Allen was impressed with the footage Neupert had selected, a good deal of which was decidedly anti-colonialist, epitomized by a scene of wealthy women throwing seeds to a group of poor children as if they were pigeons. Equally striking was the shot of women tirelessly doing laundry, their reflections visible in the water, as men stood motionless in the background. This is a key example of how the filmmakers went about surveying the essence of modern life in all corners of the world, allowing multiple planes of action to unfold within the frame.  I especially enjoyed the excerpt Neupert selected from a review of the Lumières’ famous film in which a train arrives at a station. The amount of information the writer infers from the fleeting appearances of passengers is quite touching, singling out the “young man with the humble bundle who has left home in search of work.” In terms of comedy, the Lumière Brothers certainly weren’t against staging pratfalls, as witnessed by the vignette of a gardener getting pranked by a kid. Yet I was surprised by just how loudly I laughed at the sight of grown men participating in a sack race, some of whom opt to awkwardly shuffle down the street rather than hop alongside the others. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> One of the most rapturous ovations I’ve seen in the six years I’ve been attending Ebertfest was received by Ava DuVernay, the celebrated director who flew to Champaign, Illinois, amidst a busy schedule, in order to attend the Saturday morning screening of her Oscar-nominated 2016 documentary, “13th.” I immediately rose to my feet when she appeared on the stage, not just because her film is a towering achievement but because its call to action is overwhelming in its potency. DuVernay’s film pinpoints the 13th Amendment’s loophole approving slavery “as a punishment for crime,” and uses it as her jumping off point for a scathing indictment of the U.S. prison system. She explores how the “war on drugs” propelled by Nixon and enforced by Reagan targeted African-American communities, sending the vast majority of prisoners to jail without a fair trial.  The festival audience applauded renowned activist Angela Davis for unapologetically wearing an afro to her court hearing, and several audience members booed Donald Trump, whose racist comments about “the good old days” are chillingly played over footage of the violence he incited at his own rallies. Though DuVernay is grateful to Netflix for giving her full creative control over her film, making it available in 190 countries on the same day, seeing “13th” on the enormous screen of the Virginia Theatre made for an infinitely more impactful viewing experience. In the wonderful Q&A that followed, DuVernay recalled how the reviews penned by Roger Ebert and Ebertfest guest Carrie Rickey of her 2011 feature debut, “I Will Follow,” played a crucial role in launching her career. “Don’t knock on closed do[...]

Ebertfest 2018, Day 3: 'Columbus,' 'A Page of Madness,' 'American Splendor'


The typical day at Ebertfest is one that sends attendees down any number of highways and byways, cinematic and otherwise, and provides them with an experience that exposes them to any number of experiences. This was especially true of Day 3 of this year’s Ebertfest, a journey that covered nearly a century of film, covering subjects running the gamut from architecture to avant-garde. It even included a street party with cake, ice cream, music and, perhaps inevitably, a couple of dancing dinosaurs. And as incongruous as these elements may sound listed in print, they all, with the possible exception of the dinosaurs, came together into one strange and beautiful whole. The screening day kicked off with “Columbus,” the brilliant 2017 feature debut from writer/director Kogonada. Set in the city of Columbus, Indiana, a place considered the Midwest Mecca of Architecture for the number of modernists structures on display, the film stars John Cho as Jin, a Korean-born man who arrives in town to visit his seriously ill father in the hospital. While there he becomes acquainted with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) a high school graduate who has been putting off going to college, at least in part so as to help take care of her mother, a recovering meth addict. An architecture fan herself, Casey takes Jin to look at her favorite buildings and as time goes on, a bond begins to develop between the two despite the age difference between them—both have, after all, been forced to deal with absent parents in the past and are having to come to terms with separating from them entirely.  From this description, you may think that you know how this scenario develops and you would probably be wrong. Written and directed with the kind of precision rarely found these days in most feature, let alone debuts, and beautifully acted by Cho, Richardson (whose turn was one of the best and most heartbreaking seen on a movie screen in 2017) and Parker Posey as an old friend of Jin’s as well as a student of his father, “Columbus” is one of those films that quietly grabs a hold of you and sticks around in the mind long after the end credits have stopped rolling. After the screening, Kogonada was joined on stage by producers Andrew Milano and Danielle Behrens, executive producers Bill Harnisch and Ruth Ann Harnisch and writer Matt Fagerholm for a Q&A moderated by Nate Kohn. Kogonada, who got his start making video essays, discussed the key influence of legendary Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu on his work, especially in the way that he effectively utilizes empty space to underline the emotions of the characters throughout. (Although there are a number of shots in the film where nothing exactly happens from a narrative perspective, I cannot readily think of a single image on display that I would not consider to be absolutely essential.) Obviously, screenplays for projects that deal with subjects as arcane as film theory and architecture are not exactly the easiest of sell but, as Ruth Ann Harnisch put it, you “get into movies to make art.” Behrens also talked about how she needed to be sold on Richardson, who Kogonada had wanted to appear based on a hunch after meeting with her, and how Behrens managed to help get the film’s highly important sound mix done at the legendary Skywalker Ranch. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Next up was one of the longest-lasting and most beloved of all Ebertfest traditions, the annual appearance of the Alloy Orchestra, the three-man ensemble—Terry Donahue, Ken Winokur and Roger Miller—who compose scores for silent films that they then present live at screenings utilizing a wide array of instruments ranging from the familiar to the downright peculiar. Speaking of peculiar[...]

The Devil and Father Amorth


"The Devil and Father Amorth" sees director William Friedkin returning to a subject that drove his biggest box-office success, "The Exorcist," and spawned a seemingly never-ending series of sequels. This time, however, he's made a documentary that spends time with a real-life exorcist, watches him perform an exorcism, and examines demonic possession with help from neurologists and other medical experts.  The cleric in question is Father Gabriele Amorth, founder of the International Association Of Exorcists, and a man who claimed to have performed thousands of exorcisms during his ninety-plus years on earth. In terms of time management, I'm not sure how that would be humanly possible even if demonic possession were a real thing that happened constantly and not, as Friedkin's medical experts postulate, a rare condition that science is not yet advanced enough to fully understand and treat. (The phrase "spiritual disease," which recurs throughout this film, is a fascinating one, though Friedkin and company don't really explore it until the final third.) This all sounds like it could make for a fascinating movie. But "The Devil and Father Amorth" feels at once bloated and slight, like a DVD supplement puffed up to feature length (an hour and eight minutes, just long enough to be exhibited in theaters as a stand-alone title).  It begins with a prolonged rehash of the real cast that inspired the novel "The Exorcist" by the late William Peter Blatty. Friedkin hosts the movie in the manner of the host of a cable TV series purporting to explore whether ghosts are real, addressing the camera while walking and talking. We see snippets of interviews with Blatty from different periods, and shots of Friedkin revisiting the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., where parts of "The Exorcist" were filmed.  Then Freidkin moves on to Father Amorth, who calls "The Exorcist" his favorite movie ("I guess, of course," Friedkin says, self-deprecatingly) and was one of the most popular and beloved holy men in Italy—an overwhelmingly Catholic country where, according to this film, 50,000 people a year visit exorcists.  If you're wondering if perhaps living in a culture that tells you demonic possession is a regular occurrence might contribute to people being diagnosed as demonically possessed, well, Friedkin's ahead of you. To his credit, he does dig into the possibility of a kind of confirmation bias occurring. And in interviews with religious as well as medical experts, he notes that many religions believe in possession and have rituals to deal with it. The movie allows that people who don't experience this as part of their religious or cultural tradition don't tend to become possessed and seek help from people like Father Amorth. Robert Barron, author of many books on evil and Satan, advances a kind of horror movie ouija board theory of the phenomenon, warning Blatty that prolonged consideration of demonic forces can increase the likelihood of people becoming influenced or possessed—as if merely reading and writing about such strangeness is tantamount to summoning it.  The best parts of this film are the interviews with medical experts debating possible scientific explanations for what Friedkin captured with his video camera, and that so many horror filmmakers, Friedkin especially, have depicted in fiction. The doctors don't know quite what they're dealing with but are unwilling to close down any possibility out-of-hand.  Much of this falls somewhere on the spectrum between cornball hucksterism and "you could have learned this by visiting Wikipedia," but things turn problematic when Friedkin goes into a room where a woman named Cristina who has been through eight e[...]

I Feel Pretty


The Amy Schumer comedy “I Feel Pretty” has generated a bit of backlash before it’s even come out, with many folks concerned that it’s relying on body shaming to generate cheap laughs. But that’s actually not even the movie’s biggest problem. Schumer stars as a funny and capable but insecure young woman named Renee who bonks her head in a ghastly accident at a packed Manhattan spin class. When she regains consciousness, she believes she’s been magically transformed into the gorgeous bombshell she’s always dreamed of becoming. A steady diet of YouTube hair and makeup tutorials and Cosmopolitan magazine articles—not to mention that she works for a cosmetics company, so she’s a cog in the image machinery herself—has warped her notions of what constitutes true beauty. But the clever central conceit in the script from Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein—a longtime writing team (“Never Been Kissed,” “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “How to Be Single”) also making their directorial debut—is that Renee’s outward appearance never changes. She thinks she’s suddenly unrecognizable. But really, Renee simply begins radiating the confidence that’s long eluded her, which leads to the kinds of opportunities she always hoped stunning looks would create. She lands her dream job as a receptionist at the high-end makeup company where she’d been toiling in obscurity. She’s a flirty social butterfly during the most mundane dive-bar outings with her two best pals (Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips). And she gets a boyfriend (Rory Scovel) who’s attracted to her precisely because she’s a fun, fearless female, to borrow the Cosmo lingo.  This is a high-concept, modern-day fairy tale—a female version of “Big,” which “I Feel Pretty” even acknowledges by having Renee watch the Tom Hanks classic on TV before she tosses a coin in a fountain and makes a wish on a stormy night. Even the spin teacher at SoulCycle functions as a high-energy fairy godmother, sprinkling Renee with feel-good mantras before she takes her fateful tumble. It’s the happily-ever-after portion of the story that’s problematic. Schumer has long challenged traditional ideas of femininity, from her stand-up comedy work to her television series “Inside Amy Schumer” to films like the surprisingly emotional “Trainwreck” and the less-successful “Snatched.” She can be simultaneously brash and sly—swaggering, yet self-deprecating. And watching her inspired delivery and unabashed physicality is one of the film’s great joys. Kohn and Silverstein play with music and camera angles to contrast how Renee newly sees herself in the world—strutting through a crowd with the perfect song punctuating every step—and the uneventful reality. But playing a character with self-esteem issues—the Renee at the beginning and end of the film—is a bit of a departure for her, and it also allows her some genuinely dramatic moments. In an early scene, she comes home to her cramped Chinatown apartment after a night out with her girlfriends, strips down to her ill-fitting bra and flesh-colored Spanx and sadly surveys what she sees in the full-length mirror. This is not body shaming; this is a sensation every woman has experienced countless times in her life, regardless of her shape or how others might perceive her. The idea that Renee possessed the confidence she was seeking all along is a well-worn cliché, but “I Feel Pretty” comes at it from a slightly different angle. This is no ugly duckling makeover comedy. There is no trying-on-clothes montage with Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” blasting in the background. But the you-go-girl pep talk Renee gives at the film’s moment of truth—at the launch party for a new lin[...]