Crass Over Class Prevails in a Charmless Ugly Truth
- 2009 24 Jul
DVD Release Date: November 10, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: July 24, 2009
Rating: R (for sexual content and language)
Genre: Romantic comedy
Run Time: 97 min.
Director: Robert Luketic
Actors: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Bree Turner, Eric Winter, Cheryl Hines, John Michael Higgans, Yvette Nicole Brown
Borrowing a few pages from the When Harry Met Sally playbook, albeit in a decidedly Judd Apatow comedic fashion, The Ugly Truth has essentially the same battle of the sexes motif and even features a wink and a nudge to Meg Ryan's iconic delicatessen scene that prompted the memorable "I'll have what's she's having" line from a nearby customer.
While writer Nora Ephron definitely pushed the envelope for the romantic comedy genre back in 1989 with her witty treatise on sex, love and romantic relationships, there was still a discernable heartbeat in her exploration on whether men and women really can be friends "without the sex part getting in the way." And thanks to one of the movie's best cinematic touches, snappy little interludes featuring the against-the-odds stories of happily married couples in between, there was always a glimmer of hope that relationships built on a solid foundation of friendship, mutual respect and love could, in fact, stand the test of time. It wasn't only about the sex like in The Ugly Truth.
The big difference is that Ephron actually made an effort to develop her characters, allowing them to experience fully-realized heartbreak, pain and growth, so the inevitable happy ending didn't feel needlessly tacked on. Rather than an afterthought, it felt like a victory for the viewer who invested the time in watching it all play out. Unfortunately, that same care didn't exactly go into writing The Ugly Truth. Penned by three writers whose previous efforts included Legally Blonde and The House Bunny, two lightweight movies that are veritable Oscar contenders in comparison, these characters so flat are and by the numbers that they're not even worth featuring in a bad CW sitcom.
For me, the jury was always still out on Katherine Heigl's (Grey's Anatomy, 27 Dresses.) ability to morph into a likeable Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon-esque rom-com leading lady. While she may have the approachable good looks (non-threatening to women, but also stunning enough to appeal to men), this movie ultimately doesn't do much to advance her cause. In one lame situation after the next, there's never an opportunity for Heigl or her character to be funny, charming or even relatable. In fact, Heigl is so singularly focused on being Abby the control freak that it's difficult to believe she'd actually block off time for "finding love" with her Blackberry overflowing with other commitments.
But in the quick glimpses the audience actually gets into Abby's life outside of work seem to indicate otherwise. A self-proclaimed "cat person," Abby pines for a man who'll truly appreciate her and her precious felines, not to mention art and everything else that she considers "cultured." In the midst of her internal rant about a lack of great dates, her cat accidentally hits the remote control (just one of the many all-too-convenient ways to keep the story moving) and before Abby knows it, she's tuning in to the most popular guy in cable access—a barbaric relationship guru named Mike (Gerard Butler) on The Ugly Truth.
Confirming all her worst fears about men, Mike's advice is simple. Throw away all your romantic notions and expectations about The One because men are just hopelessly focused on one thing—sex. And the quicker one accepts that men will never evolve, let alone change, the better your dating life will be. Encouraging those without a date to simply hit the Stairmaster, Abby is offended enough by his sexist commentary to phone in. Eventually calling her a "dog" because of her stalwart romantic optimism and the fact she's boyfriend-less at present, Abby is determined to prove his theories wrong.
Thankfully, only seconds later Abby has her shot when her cat climbs out her window and jumps in a tree (gotta love this cat for helping the story limp along). Rather than putting on a pair of pants like most people would do (or something to cover those frilly white underpants) before making her rescue, Abby immediately ventures out, much to the delight of her neighbor, who also has his shades open when he exits the shower and wraps a towel around his lower half. Noticing that he has a killer body (and flosses!!!), which thrills her to no end, Abby immediately decides she must get to know him better. Pronto.
Intrigued by the scantily clad girl in the tree, Colin (Eric Winter) heads right over (in just the towel, natch). After discovering her ankle is sprained, he wraps it for her (coincidentally, he's a doctor and good at that sort of thing). When he's not more than merely polite, Abby automatically decides she'll need Mike's help to land a date with the seemingly perfect guy.
But she won't have to bother with a phone call because (quelle surprise) Mike has been offered a job at the television station where Abby works. Since he's such a big hit on cable access, the powers that be miraculously assumed he'll be the key to getting back on track ratings-wise. Apparently, Abby produces "too serious" stories that aren't really resonating on a mass level. Now with Mike in the picture, she'll be his producer—nevermind that his R-rated musings are way too racy to fly on mainstream news … but I digress.
In poor taste or not, the people of Sacramento seem to love his no-holds-barred approach to relationships, bimbos wrestling in jello and all. And with the acceptance of the locals on his side, Abby eventually approaches Mike for his proverbial two cents on not only landing a date with the elusive doctor, but getting him to stick around. And just like you'd expect, Mike's advice isn't exactly revolutionary and involves everything from hanging up on Colin when he's on the verge of asking her for a date to eating a hot dog seductively at the ball park when they're together.
With advice like this, surely Abby and Colin are going to live happily ever after, right?
Yes, just like every other romantic comedy on the planet, everyone knows that won't be the case with a bad boy in the picture like Mike. And in a zippy and unexpected twist (no way!), Mike just happens to be more wounded than his tacky television shtick would indict.
Normally, as a fan of romantic comedies myself, I don't have a problem with the familiar structure. Simply put, if it's done well, and you actually like the characters, it can be a satisfying, girly guilty pleasure.
But what prevents The Ugly Truth from contributing anything worthwhile to the genre is its sheer absurdity. Not only does the dialogue—and attempts at humor—scrape the bottom of the barrel morally, but there aren't even 10 seconds of this forgettable movie that are believable. Surely, there have to better happy-ever-after stories to tell and more meaningful insights about relationships than "Guys like something to grab on to, so get hair extensions." Love, not to mention the audience, deserves far better than The Ugly Truth. And hopefully, Heigl, Butler and Hollywood will get the memo next time around.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking, in some scenes until the point of being drunk.
- Language/Profanity: There is a constant stream of profanity throughout, including God's name taken in vain and several uses of the "f" word, most used in a sexual context. Demonstrating that's she's not who Mike thinks she is, Abby uses even more course language, especially in reference to male anatomy, as the movie progresses.
- Sex/Nudity: Mike's whole "ugly truth" premise is that guys only want sex, not love and commitment, so in order to snag a date, a woman must be a tease, dress provocatively and not have a laundry list of qualities you're looking for in your future spouse like Abby does because no man like possibly exists anyway. A good-looking neighbor, Colin, gives Abby hope that Mike might be wrong when he saves Abby from falling from a tree she's rescuing her cat from. Abby is dressed in a skimpy tank top and underwear, and Colin is wearing a bath towel, which eventually drops, revealing his bare backside. Meanwhile, at work, Mike is all about pushing the envelope and has two women fighting in a pool-full of Jello in a segment. Sex—or basically not having sex—is discussed crudely on-air between the married anchors. Mike buys Abby a pair of vibrating panties, which she ends up wearing to a business meeting. Their remote accidentally falls into the hands of young boy, who inadvertently switches it from one gear to the next, causing Abby to get very worked up at the table, much to the delight of her boss and fellow co-workers. When Abby and Colin go on a date, Mike is coaching her on how to eat a hot dog in a sexual way. When doing so, she accidentally spills her drink on Colin and when she's wiping it up, she looks like she's pleasuring him with her hand. All matters of sexual experience are also discussed including masturbation, pre-marital sex, threesomes, etc.
- Violence: Nothing that's not of the comedic variety.
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.
For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.