The Ugly Truth begins as a standard rom-com but finds humor in unexpected places. News producer Abby (Katherine Heigl playing the role of the poor man’s Charlize Theron) is the damsel in distress, trying to find a man who meets all her ridiculous qualifications. It could be the methodical list of expectations, or possibly the pre-date background checks, that scare the men away. But I’m more interested in who the hell in suffers from the delusion that people just getting to work (especially those who arrive early, like… maybe producers) are always greeted one by one by the entire staff, who then follows them down long hallways to discuss last minute items. Isn’t that what 8 hours of meetings on your calendar are for, to discuss the things you’re not working on? The writer and director are in Hollywood. How do they not know? Perhaps it’s just a studio exec’s perverted fantasy… but I digress.
Abby is confronted by her boss, Stuart (Nick Searcy, adding welcome odd-ball humor), who insists that they add more “edge” to their news segments. “But knowing which celebutante is in rehab is of vital importance?” retorts one of Abby’s co-workers. We follow her, scene to scene, with a cell phone in her one hand, energy drink in the other, to thoroughly establish her “go” personality. This is a staple of every senseless rom-com, but the picture changes for the better when Mike (Gerard Butler) enters the picture, with his macho attitude and secrets of the other gender proffered in his TV show “The Ugly Truth”. The standard formula of either the emotionally needy or stoic workaholic (read: emotionally needy underneath) skinny, beautiful, well-paid businesswoman who can’t find love is departed somewhat here. The film is as sympathetic to men as it is to women, who objectify us as much as we them.
Mike becomes Bergerac to Abby’s Roxane, except it is Roxane who seeks the help in her romance. The unwitting accomplice of course falls in love with her while she treads down the wrong path with the wrong man… Blah, blah, etc. etc. You read it in gradeschool.
The film is funniest in passing moments between the major scenes, including Larry (John Michael Higgins) quipping cryptically, “He wasn’t sexually harassing me,” in response to a discussion about a fellow employee who underwent sensitivity training. Or Mike showing his sensible side regarding twins he fooled around with, “I only slept with the one who could read.” While it falls back on the standard comic, circumstantial misunderstanding, it comes out the other side without diving too deeply into manufactured catharsis. Add Jonah (Noah Matthews), a good nephew we don’t see much of, but he’s neither a perfect kid nor a train-wreck of a delinquent. He reminds me a bit of Nick Naylor’s son in Thank You For Smoking. Both kids look up to their professions with macabre fascination; Jonah takes to heart his uncle’s advice, “Be mean to hot girls” while, to paraphrase Mike, they are still emotionally stunted adolescents and not the calculating bitches dad makes them out to be—not yet worthy of the indifference heaped upon them.
The excessive profanity, a flawed attempt at making the film as edgy as the TV station wants to be, isn’t offensive, shocking or funny. There’s plenty of “fuck”, “cock”, “vagina”, etc. to contrast with Abby who initially can’t get herself to say more than “eff you”. But there’s no finesse or scarcity to lend impact to the vulgarity. It’s handled with all the craftsmanship of an infant wielding an arc welder. Every actor looks as if they’re petrified to utter a single expletive, even the brawny Mr. Butler who wouldn’t look so comical if they let him speak in his native accent instead of making chipmunk cheeks to eke out a raspy American accent, revealing a crooked incisor that makes him look less like a macho man and more like a Scottish woodchuck—if they were indigenous to Scotland.
It makes me wonder, though, why there aren’t more movies about ordinary looking people in middle-class jobs having trouble finding Mr. Right. My college pal and friend of fifteen years, Ken, once made the astute observation, “Isn’t it funny how the sensitive, funny guys coincidentally just happen to be attractive and rich?” Where are our generation’s Zampanos and Gelsominas?
The Ugly Truth • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Running Time: 97 Minutes • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 • MPAA Rating:R for sexual content and language. • Distributed by Columbia Pictures