Apparently, if I’m not a boorish, knuckle-dragging, beer-swilling slob who grabs the asses of attractive women when they pass by, then I must be gay or European. That’s the depressing message I took away from The Ugly Truth.
Other critics will likely focus on the movie’s retrograde thinking when it comes to women, and they will have plenty of ammunition. I walked away from this feeling insulted and stereotyped as a man. All in all, the portrait this romantic comedy paints of heterosexuals is so radioactive that being gay and European starts to look distinctly appealing. Maybe I’ll watch Brüno again.
The film begins with Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl), a tightly wound TV producer at an unaffiliated local station in Sacramento whose supreme competence can’t keep the station’s programming from tanking in the ratings. To boost the numbers, management goes over her head and gives a daytime slot to Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), the host of a cable-access show who gives relationship advice like an unholy cross between Dr. Phil, Jim Cramer, and Howard Stern. Abby’s massive pique at having to work with Mike soon turns to astonishment when he becomes the station’s most popular personality.
The same goes for us, because nothing about this character rings true. His antics are obnoxious, his manner is off-putting, and his ideas about relationships are unoriginal in the extreme. He also drops some rather hideous off-color jokes in the office that’d surely bring on a sexual harassment suit in the real world, as Abby points out. Why are the TV viewers connecting with him? A charismatic lead actor might have at least helped this go down, but Butler is atrocious in the role, sporting a bizarre American accent (he never could do a passable one) and looking tentative, as if he doesn’t know how far to push the character’s brazen lewdness. Strange to say this about the star of 300, but he lacks the right macho swagger here.
The film is by the same creative team that did Legally Blonde, though co-writer Nicole Eastman receives story credit, so we should probably blame her for the movie setting itself up as a workplace comedy only to abandon that in favor of an even more unbelievable romantic farce. The lonely and sexually frigid Abby becomes smitten with a cute doctor (Eric Winter) living in her apartment complex and turns to Mike for help in snaring the guy. I don’t have space to go over all the ways in which this is sexist, but I will say that this leads to some mightily strained set pieces like the one in which Abby accidentally wears a pair of vibrating panties to a business meeting and loses the remote.
Heigl fights through all this gamely and with a certain degree of skill. She still comes out on the losing end here, and it’s not because of anything she does on screen. Remember a couple of years ago when she expressed some reservations about the gender roles in Knocked Up after she became famous? Actors aren’t supposed to be ambivalent about movies that make them stars, but you could see where she was coming from. Now, though, she’s lost the moral high ground by headlining a comedy that’s a lot more offensive and a lot less funny.