For as long as there has been romance, there have been romantic comedies. It all began in the Bible, with a cheeky nude romp starring sensible Adam and his zany, spontaneous girlfriend Eve. The template has never really changed – at first the couple hate each other, and then they fall in love, and then something causes them to break-up temporarily, and then they get back together and live happily ever after. I mean, I’m inferring a lot from the book of Genesis, but most of it was implied. So here comes The Ugly Truth, a romantic comedy with all of the clichés and none of the romance.
Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler play Woman and Man respectively in Robert Luketic’s The Ugly Truth. I’m sure they were given actual names in the film, but I certainly can’t remember them. Basically, Heigl plays the uptight, unlucky at love independent lady, and Butler plays the chauvinistic lady-killer. She’s uptight, he’s laidback. He’s arrogant, she’s stubborn. “It could never work!” scream the audience members who have never actually seen a romantic comedy before. Woman is the producer of a low-rating morning talk show in Sacramento. With cancellation imminent, the network brings in Man, the host of his own public access show in which desperate ladies are advised to lose weight and dress whorishly if they wish to land a partner. Uh-oh! I hope they can work together in an amicable and professional manner!
Now, the only reason a character in a romantic comedy ever works in television is so they can have a televised confrontation/admission of love in the final reel. This isn’t a spoiler. This is a scientifically proven fact. I previously mentioned in my embarrassing rave of Confessions of a Shopaholic that I can appreciate a cliché-ridden romcom if it hits all the appropriate beats in a charming way. I think if the makers of The Ugly Truth even saw charm, they would shriek and shrivel like the Wicked Witch of the West. The humour is lowest-common-denominator smut; an example of a clever moment from the film would be one in which the main character’s simply name parts of their anatomy. Judd Apatow’s sex comedies use dirty words as punctuation; the jokes are already there, but the cussing just makes it sound realistic. The Ugly Truth has nothing but dirty words.
Speaking of Wicked Witch’s, Katherine Heigl’s Woman is one of the most painfully unlikeable female characters of any modern film. Some viewers still consider Heigl shacking up with Seth Rogen in Knocked Up to be a concept so bizarre and fantastical they refuse to take it seriously. Well, I would certainly rather jump into bed with Rogen than spend more than three consecutive minutes with Heigl’s almost psychopathic portrayal of a contemporary woman. Heigl once accused Knocked Up of being sexist for featuring shrill female characters. I don’t understand that criticism at all. The women in Knocked Up were intelligent, could hold their own in a conversation, and felt real and lovable. In The Ugly Truth, only three women have speaking roles, and none of them are flattering. The rest of the women are limited to wrestling in jelly or being eyed off by Gerard Butler’s Man.
As for Gerard Butler, his performance is the film’s single saving grace. He’s charming, funny and understands the dynamic required to play ‘the lovable rascal’. Sure, his ‘lovable rascal’ works a little bluer than Bogey, but this is 2009, so get used to it. The Ugly Truth attempts to be hip and edgy by featuring plenty of discussions about boy parts and girl parts and how they become friends with one another. However, the makers of this film clearly have no idea about how men and women actually interact. The portrayals of relationships are so cut and dry in this film, it’s almost adorably naive. Therefore, it’s hard to get offended by The Ugly Truth, even as it plods along in its minstrelsy display of men as personality-free idiots and women as shrill maniacs. After all, the film doesn’t even know what it’s talking about. It would be like getting angry at a child for not understanding trigonometry.
As we walked out of the cinema, my girlfriend asked me if I knew what Katherine Heigl’s next movie was going to be. I answered honestly and said I didn’t know. She responded: “I just wanted to know when it was coming out so I could remember not to go see it”. Now that is my kind of woman.