Women Who Inspire: Abby Kohn
Photo by Variety
We were lucky enough to sit and talk with Abby Kohn, a writer, producer, and now director, of some of our favorite movies including He’s Just Not That Into You, Never Been Kissed, and, most recently, I Feel Pretty.
I Feel Pretty is the big-hearted, smart comedy starring Amy Schumer that tells the story of a woman’s reckoning with self-confidence and subsequent empowerment. And as a swimwear line, we know a thing or two about the importance of helping women feel beautiful and confident as they are.
Read our interview with Abby to understand the ideas behind the film, why it is not only important, but totally within our reach, to always feel pretty.
We cannot say this loud enough: We absolutely loved your film! It’s hilarious, original, and truly affecting. We loved watching it in the theater, and we continue to think about it – and its message, even now. Bravo.
Thank you! When I really connect with a film, it stays with me long after I leave the theater - so I consider that the highest compliment!
Tell us, when you and Marc Silverstein, your longtime writing partner and co-director for this film, came up with the idea for I Feel Pretty, did you know that you wanted Amy Schumer to be the one who would bring Renee to life on the screen?
During the writing process, we did not have any particular actress in mind. But as soon as we started discussing casting, it was obvious to everyone involved in the making of the movie that Amy was the top choice. She is the perfect Renee.
Why is it that the women we all root for, love, and want to be friends with are women like Renee and her crew, yet most women still do not want to be identified by the adjectives that define Renee?
That’s a good question. There are many things that define Renee - her humor, her kindness, her smarts, her loyalty. But she also struggles with insecurities. And I do find that many of us, REALLY do not want to admit to ourselves, or anyone else, that we also struggle with insecurity. As women, it’s as if we think admitting to our insecurities will hold us back, when in fact it will bring us closer to others who feel the same way, and ultimately give us all the chance to try and move past them.
In your films, you create real women who are truly three-dimensional – capable and flawed. The women are not pitted against each other; rather, they try to have one another’s backs. And even the “foils,” the beautiful girls, are not the enemy; they’re grappling with their own stuff too. How does creating these cool friendships help deliver the message of believing in one’s self?
I think it’s part of what you just touched on. We wanted Renee and her friends to be the kind of people we want to be friends with, before during and after her ‘epiphany’ - in other words, she is at once an awesome friend with a pretty good life AND insecure — and that’s ok and real. And we also made a conscious choice to do away with the arch ‘beautiful girl nemesis’ character - because that just doesn’t feel real, either. Everyone is struggling with their own stuff, and generally our own confidence is a bigger impediment to our progress that the hot girl at the office.
We love the notion that Renee’s looks never actually change. Unlike in Big, which you reference in this movie, where Tom Hanks actually changes into that 13-year old boy, here, Renee stays 100% Renee. It’s awesome and so much fun to watch! How did you come up with this idea?
That was one of a few ‘deal breaker’ ideas that were part of our initial vision for this movie. We met with a few production companies that liked the script, but insisted that we’d need to see what Renee saw in the mirror. From the very beginning, we were adamant that we NEVER see that. We felt it would go against everything we were trying to say about the pressure women feel to live up to the conventional standards of beauty.
What was it like to reconcile Marc’s ideas and ideals about a woman’s experience with beauty and societal pressures with yours, given your respective vantage points of being male and female?
Marc is pretty tuned into the female experience - he gets me all day - and then a wife and two daughters when he gets home :). But it was important for us to make sure and stress that insecurity is not reserved for women — it’s a universal thing. For the character of Ethan, we drew from quite a bit from Marc’s experiences. Ethan is a guy who has never been comfortable with the ‘bro’ culture, but feels pressure to be a certain kind of dude, whether it’s to move up at work, or in the dating world. So I think both of us really connected to feeling insecure in a world that seems to be telling us how we should be.
It is so important for women to be in control of our own value. What is your best advice to empower women to “own” that belief?
I guess it would be to really consider where and when is it that you feel the best — that feeling when you’ve forgotten to check if your tummy is hanging over your pants or if you yanked that chin hair (is that just me?) because you are just feeling so grounded and focused and happy. For me, it’s humor. Being around people that make me laugh, making my kids and husband laugh, writing lines that make Marc laugh. In those fleeting moments, none of the surface crap matters, and I really get a feeling of what I love to feel and do. And reconnecting to that feeling when the fingers of insecurity start to creep in.
There seems to be a sea-change in how women see themselves and how they are ready and willing to step up and into their power, a la Renee. How would you encourage more women to own this and be emboldened by it?
I would say that, given my experience talking to women (and men too!) about this movie — people are hungry for more women standing up and reflecting the pressures many women still feel to be and look and act a certain way. It’s ok to be yourself, to admit to you struggles, and still pursue your dreams. That alone gives younger women hope that they can be imperfect, and do the same.
If you had to write a short scene with Renee shopping for swimwear, what would it be?
It would be how I wish I could be, and still aspire to be, even in my 40s. Renee, post-Soul-Cycle-fall, would be in the dressing room, trying on a one piece with sarong. It’s hot — but not quite right. Then one piece - no sarong. Super fly - she struts, admiring, but not perfect. Tankini. Also gorgeous, she pretends to play beach volleyball and loves what she sees, but could still be better. String bikini. Oh my god - it’s amazing, Sports Illustrated worthy, getting there. Thong bikini - she shakes her butt in the mirror — it’s PERFECT. Then a thought — maybe topless? Off Renee’s face, we CUT!
Thank you for giving us characters like Renee and amazing, fun movies like I Feel Pretty. In our minds, this is the best kind of character-movie and romantic comedy. And the message resonates.