The Ugly Truth Review
Battle of the sexes films peaked in the 1940s with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey vehicles such as 1949’s Adam’s Rib and Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. They made a comeback in 1989 with When Harry Met Sally but modern rom-coms like How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days can’t even dream of competing with such classics. These films featured original narratives and managed to balance comedy, drama and romance in a way that was appealing to both men and women. Both leading roles were well written and the characters were types yet still relatable.
The Ugly Truth’s central characters are extreme types. Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is a TV news producer with a very specific checklist when it comes to finding love. Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), despite being ruggedly handsome, is far from the perfect man. He’s rude, crude, and sexist and makes a living telling women that the way to a man’s heart is through blow jobs and skimpy clothing. The romantic control freak and the misogynistic man-whore clash when Abby’s boss hires Mike to present a slot on her show. Things heat up when he offers to educate her in the way of men in order to secure a date with the dishy doctor who moves in next door.
The most successful romantic comedies, in box office terms, have differed from the tired, formulaic plotlines that have been rehashed over the last few decades, such as the culture clash of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mel Gibson’s mind-reading abilities in What Women Want, a modern take on the classic Cinderella fairytale with Julia Roberts’ prostitute in Pretty Woman and the male-centred Will Smith starrer Hitch. Recent R-rated films like Knocked Up and Sex and the City indicate that the Farrelly Brothers were onto something with their 1998 film There’s Something about Mary. I’m sure many women out there drag their boyfriends along to see a chick flick in exchange for sitting through the likes of Bruno and Star Trek. Maybe R-rated is the way to go; just look at American Pie, Wedding Crashers, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and this year’s fourth biggest film so far, The Hangover.
For me, the perfect romantic comedy features a likeable cast with interesting supporting characters, a leading couple with scorching chemistry, it has to be laugh-out-loud funny and, of course, give a bit of a tug on the old heartstrings. It really bugs me when characters are written as extreme types, when the leading man is as sexy as a bucket of sick and the starring couple act like they’ve just met each other. Fortunately, Heigl and Butler make great sparring partners, any character flaws are ironed out by the end of the film and a scene involving a pair of vibrating knickers was particularly hilarious (it borrowed massively from When Harry Met Sally but I can overlook that). The supporting actors were great too but Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Waitress) and John Michael Higgins deserved more screen time as the news presenters whose marriage has gone a bit stale.
As a fan of rom-coms, I’ve seen Heigl’s Knocked Up and 27 Dresses and Butler’s P.S. I Love You and I think they are highly entertaining leading actors. However, it seems to me that Heigl plays the same kind of woman all the time – hardworking, successful, controlling, obsessive and in love with the idea of love rather than a particular guy, until Mr Wrong hangs around long enough to become Mr Right. If she wants to keep climbing up the list of possible Julia Roberts/Sandra Bullock replacements, she had better start varying her roles or she will turn into a one trick pony. Butler on the other hand has learned this lesson early. Following roles in The Phantom of the Opera, 300, Nim’s Island and RocknRolla, he has proved himself to be a man’s man and a ladies’ man.
People often disregard romantic comedies and this isn’t entirely justified. It Happened One Night (1934) was the first film to receive all five major Oscars but the genre is rarely recognised come awards season. The odd indie may get a couple of nods on the festival circuit but it has been a long time since the likes of Annie Hall (1977), Moonstruck (1987) and As Good As It Gets (1997). Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) harked back to the days of dialogue heavy rom-coms like The Philadelphia Story. They’re smart, witty and entertaining and don’t patronise the audience. In The Ugly Truth, Mike tells the TV audience that men are simple and women are complicated, women are looking for love and men are looking for an easy lay and the way to make a man interested is to laugh at his jokes and never criticise. Part of it plays out like a self help book which gets a bit tedious but later we discover that Mike is more than the sum of his parts. The Ugly Truth is not exactly groundbreaking and it is more com than rom but as far as summer movies go, it’s a nice departure from the usual blockbusters and kids films.
The Ugly Truth isn’t that men will drool over anything in a short skirt and that women are obsessive-compulsive control freaks. The truth is that every genre has a golden age and it seems that this generation’s romantic comedies just can’t think of anything original to say; The Ugly Truth is no exception.