The Popcorn Reel
Monday, July 27, 2009

This Is How We Do It: Katherine Heigl as Abby and Gerard Butler as Mike in "The Ugly Truth", directed by Robert Luketic.  (Photo: Sayeed Adyani/Sony Pictures)

The Ugly Truth
In The Battle of The Sexes, Hating The Player And The Game

By Omar P.L. Moore/  SHARE
Monday, July 27, 2009

Robert Luketic directs "The Ugly Truth", which opened last Friday across the U.S. and Canada.  Originally scheduled for release back in late April, this Katherine Heigl ("27 Dresses") and Gerard Butler ("300") comedy emits several riotous moments of laughter, but behind these rare episodes and the film overall are both a sadness and the feeling that nothing new arises in this romantic comedy about a high-profile, hard-working morning television talk show producer in Sacramento, California (Ms. Heigl) and a male-chauvinist and misogynist personality (Mr. Butler) who is hired from his drab but popular public access TV show existence on his rule-breaking show The Ugly Truth (where he opines bitingly about women and men and what both want) to rescue the flagging ratings of the show Sacramento AM.  Predictably the marriage made in media doesn't go off without a hitch and soon Mr. Butler's character is forever telling Ms. Heigl's what she has to do to get and keep a man. 

With interchangeable parts "The Ugly Truth" is similar to "He's Just Not That Into You", which was released in early March (perhaps that explains the "Ugly" release date change, among other reasons), where the man schools the woman about what men want in relationships only to find that he himself is both bereft of love and slowly but surely falling into it himself with his female protégé.  There's an assortment of sexual innuendo and not-so funny jokes here, plus what some (parents or non-parents alike) may find disturbing: a pre-teen boy messing about with something that belongs to a woman.  The particular sequence in question goes on a little longer than it has to and becomes an exhausting exercise of humor that has been oft-repeated since "When Harry Met Sally".  (To her credit Ms. Heigl gives it a go, but some in the audience will be saying either "okay, we get it" or, "is this the best that this film and its creators can do?")

While Mr. Butler plays Mike, the shameless cad with a heart that yearns for repair and Ms. Heigl plays Abby, the exacting and impatient producer both characters (and the film overall) are shallower than a puddle of water in a seat on a bus.  There are funnier roles for actors John Michael Higgins (seen these days in the U.S. floating less-than-bright ideas in DirecTV commercials) and Nick Searcy as Sacramento AM's KSXP-TV2 boss.  These two are priceless in smaller moments but the main complaint with "The Ugly Truth" is that all its gloss and good looks can't camouflage the fact that a woman in Hollywood simply cannot emerge in a romantic comedy film without having to fall out of trees like apples or trip on banana peels in order to get the onscreen man of her dreams.  Do women truly behave in this fashion?  No, and of course this is "just a comedy", but in a very real sense "The Ugly Truth" plays like a tragedy of epic proportions. 

Just as sad is that the film is scripted by three women (Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith and Nicole Eastman.)  Though Ms. Lutz and Ms. Smith delivered the goods as scribes for both "Ella Enchanted" and last year's satire "The House Bunny", both have gone wildly askew here.  If this film's screenplay is a sampling indicative of the best that women who write Hollywood romances can do then we are in for a long nightmare.  Published reports speak of Ms. Heigl as a feminist who was outspoken about the ramifications of Judd Apatow's film "Knocked Up" but assuming such reports are accurate, would a feminist not renounce her role in a film like "The Ugly Truth"?  (Try Alana Smithee.)

With Mr. Luketic's film one is continuously reminded that women remain worse off in Hollywood movies in 2009 than in 1939.  And that's the ugly truth. 

One thing that can be done to change this is to make films that have more intelligence, integrity and substance.  And writers who are adept at executing such.  Sidney Lumet's film "Network" via Paddy Chayefsky, released more than three decades ago showed that comedy, satire and the news were a powerful and entertaining mix, with smart women and vulnerable men.  "His Girl Friday", from the late-1940s, demonstrated that women stood up for themselves and could deliver laughs without becoming caricatures and lightning rods of stupidity and vacuous ambition.  The blonde "bimbo" stereotype, as old as the world's oldest profession, is in full effect here and though Marilyn Monroe more subtly exhibited her appeal and cashed in on the stereotype, she showed slyness in Howard Hawks' "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and Billy Wilder's "The Seven Year Itch" among other films and looked a lot smarter than Ms. Heigl's cardboard cut-out character does here.

With: Cheryl Hines, Bree Turner, Eric Winter Bonnie Somerville, John Sloman, Jesse D. Goins and Kevin Connolly.

"The Ugly Truth" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sexual content and language.  The film's duration is one hour and 36 minutes.

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