Let’s be blunt: The Ugly Truth got some pretty bad reviews. That was disappointing, as I am a big fan (as you know) of Gerard Butler, and I was hoping to see him succeed. Plus, hey, I like a good rom-com. However, the general reception of the movie kept me from seeing it until this weekend, when we wanted something brainless available via Netflix Instant View, and we opted to see just how bad The Ugly Truth was.
The truth? It’s not really that bad. Its biggest problem, it seems to me, is that it’s trying too hard. My theory about what transpired is that somebody said “Hey, let’s make a rom-com,” and someone else said “Oh, but rom-coms are so played out,” and then the first person said “Ok, ok, so we’ll come up with a gimmick to make this one different!” and the second person said “Oh, good idea. I know! Let’s make it … raunchy.” And so, in trying to make it something more than just a run-of-the-mill rom-com, the writers went overboard on the raunch, so that what they ended up with was something which seems desperate to be dirty, and somehow draws more attention than usual to the standard plot points of the romantic comedy.
It’s your usual boy and girl meet, hate each other, eventually fall in love story line. (Sorry if anyone considers that a spoiler – you shouldn’t.) Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is the control freak producer of a crappy morning television show. Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) is the Neanderthal host of a public-access show called “The Ugly Truth,” in which he dispenses advice centering around the fact that men and women largely want different things out of a relationship. Men are shallow, women want commitment, men operate on lust, women on “love”, etc. Abby’s boss hires Mike to up their ratings. Abby and Mike immediately dislike one another, but strike up a deal that involves Mike helping Abby nab the handsome doctor next door. Once she does, of course, she realizes that her idea of “Mr. Right” isn’t really what she wants.
There are no surprises here. Rom-coms are all about stereotypes, and most often deal with the notion that one part of the equation is uptight, and the other must teach them to open up a little. Katherine Heigl is quite good at playing a controlling bitch. Gerard Butler is good at being a disgusting chauvinist who still comes off as charming (of course there is more to him than meets the eye, or something.) The chemistry between the two is serviceable, if not revelatory. There are some funny scenes, some awkward scenes that are meant to be funny, and the inevitable “romantic” ending. The supporting cast (Bree Turner as Abby’s associate producer and friend; Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins as the unhappily married co-anchors of the show), though fairly enjoyable, are mostly underutilized and relegated to one-liners and innuendos.
The problem, as previously stated, lies in trying to make the thing a “dirty rom-com”. Mostly, it just feels very forced. I’m not sure the world necessarily needs another straight romantic comedy, but the movie suffers for trying to think outside the box. In order to make it naughtier, the stereotypes have to be drawn a bit broader than usual, and where this mostly causes problems is with Heigl’s character. Her uptight ice queen is almost completely unlikeable. There’s no moment where you realize that she’s actually ok and you start rooting for her. In the end, when she asks Mike why he’s in love with her, his answer is “Beats the s*** out of me.” And it beats it out of the viewer, too.
Butler (who is actually a good actor) does a decent job of being the silently suffering jerk, which brings up another big problem. We catch glimpses of Mike’s true feelings throughout. Even as he is proving his point and succeeding in helping Abby get her man, he’s progressively sorrier about it. However, at no point do we really see that Abby’s feeling are transferring from one man to the other. She certainly warms to Mike, but there’s never any real indication that she has any kind of feelings for him. Whether that’s Heigl’s fault or not is unclear. But it brings me to my biggest issue with the movie: the romance is one-sided. Mike falls in love with Abby, but does Abby really fall in love with Mike? It’s cool that he’s accepting of all her neuroses and Type-A tendencies, but ultimately, the thing she likes best about him is the fact that he loves her. That hardly seems fair.
Yep. I’m undoubtedly over-thinking things, and the movie doesn’t deserve that much analysis, but there you have it. At its core, it’s a flawed movie. Not because of the R-rated language, but because I guess I’m just not really sure it’s all that romantic. Who wants a rom-com without the rom? Even if the leading guy is Gerard Butler.