Resident Heiglologist AJ Burgin tunes into the trash rom-com The Ugly Truth and finds it not ugly so much as boring, though not for Heigl’s lack of trying nor the film’s surprising “fantastical lady-centric perspective.”
Look, it’s not as if I didn’t know The Ugly Truth was going to be bad. I’d seen it around the time it first came out. I knew it was going to be a rough night. But WOW. This was the worst movie I’ve seen in a while and certainly the worst Katherine Heigl movie I’ve seen. Way worse than 27 Dresses. Worse than Killers. Even worse, if you can believe it, than Jenny’s Wedding. More than that, it’s worse than a lot of the other legit bad movies I’ve seen recently, like Bleed and National Treasure. It’s worse because not only is it boring, not funny, and full of deeply unlikable characters, it also clearly thinks it’s none of those things. I’m convinced that the writers—Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith—actually think they’re super clever. And real talk: I just made a disgusted face at my computer as I googled who the writers were so I could write that sentence; I for sure assumed it was the standard dudes-write-rom-com-for-women thing. Except…this actually makes SO MUCH sense. Want to know what I mean by that? Keep reading, but be warned: it means spending more time hearing about The Ugly Truth, a film that deserves exactly zero minutes of your time. Still with me? You’ve already made the wrong choice.
But here we are! Let’s just get the plot out of the way. Remember when Ashley Judd and Wolverine did that rom-com together? Someone Like You? The plot is basically exactly that, down to leading lady playing the uptight, unlucky-in-love producer character. It’s the same movie but eight years later and without the charming moments and feel-good ending that make me re-watch it from time to time. (Fine, I kind of love Someone Like You. Sue me.) It’s the same plot stripped down to the most tired of gender tropes: tightly wound woman falls for immature playboy, with a little Cyrano de Bergerac thrown in (though I’m guessing they’re just drawing from Steve Martin in Roxanne rather than Edmond Rostand’s play). Here, the playboy tries to prove his cynical theories about love right by using an upside-down version of de Bergerac’s influence, even going so far as to use an earpiece at a baseball game to coach Heigl’s character through what to say and how to act on her first date with her perfect man. The key? Be non-committal and regularly confront him with your boobs. Groundbreaking (read: snoozefest).
As for the humor, ugh. When it came out, it was just…not great. Viewed with the 20/20 hindsight of the last decade, it’s actually a little painful. There are a lot of problematic jokes, but the writers seem to really favor the jokes that highlight Gerard Butler’s Mike as a classic chauvinist. When he starts working for the news program, he makes a lot of super sexual jokes, like when he announces, in front of everyone, “I like a woman on top” as he meets Heigl’s Abby, the show’s producer. Or when he tells her to “thank [her] pussy” for him, since her cat is the one who sat on the remote and turned the TV to his show in the first place. As for Heigl, her jokes are just as tired. While talking about how great her neighbor Colin is, she tells Mike, “I don’t want a bitch. And Colin could never be a bitch. He is a well-rounded man capable of mature emotions and deep abiding love, things of which you know naught of.” For Heigl in particular, I have to say that the movie isn’t suffering from the bad acting I’ve heard others point out. Heigl pulls off the “you know naught of” with a surprising amount of ease and charisma; viewers are constantly assaulted by painful writing, not acting. These jokes are honestly about as clever as the movie gets. It’s not even that I’m offended, I’m just…still bored.
A bad plot and bad writing can still hold a certain amount of appeal, especially in the very specific genre my friends call “trash rom-coms.” That appeal is usually grounded in the simple fact that we really really really want to see the two main characters kiss, no matter how irritating they’ve been. But that doesn’t happen in The Ugly Truth, at least not for me. Mike and Abby are both so unrealistically obnoxious that I don’t care if they kiss in the hot air balloon (the only scene I remembered) or fall out of it. They tried to give the character of Mike some multidimensionality by having him talk to his nephew twice, but he never stops being a caricature. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t get the appeal of Gerard Butler either; his face has the redness and hyper-malleability of someone who is extremely drunk and has just been hit with a pan. If you put fur on it, he’d closely resemble my very sleepy cat that I’ve woken up from a nap just so I can take a picture of how stupid her face looks. But maybe he had to drink his way through filming. I can’t say I’d blame him.
As for Abby, she’s too full of contradictions. She’s managed to be a successful producer but can’t stand up for herself on the phone with a stranger? A stranger she called live on his public access TV show? She hangs upside down in a tree to show her underwear and flails in exactly the wrong way so that she rips the towel off her neighbor, thereby shoving her face into his naked dick? She asks why her date ordered a scotch even though his profile says he likes red wine (which she points out on the print out she made fun of her assistant for printing out)? It’s all as annoying as it is implausible.
Here are some other random thoughts I wrote down while watching this:
- It opens with Katy Perry’s “Hot and Cold” and I’m already annoyed.
- “You are not a man, you’re a newsman, and newsmen are not defined by the easy times, they’re defined by the hard times. And can you imagine Ted Koppel or Tom Brokaw working with their wives as co-anchors? No. Cuz they couldn’t handle it. But you, you my friend, you have balls the size of Volkswagens.” So these are the jokes we’re working with for another hour and a half. Ok.
- Oh it takes place in Sacramento! That must be nice for them.
- But it has the guy from Best in Show and the woman from that Dr. Seuss movie!
- Yikes. YIKES. So they wrote her to be…the worst. These people don’t actually exist.
- “You want a relationship, here’s how you get one. It’s called a Stairmaster! Get on it and get skinny and get some trashy lingerie while you’re at it cuz at the end of the day, all we’re interested in is looks. No one falls in love with your personality at first sight. We fall in love with your tits and your ass and we stick around because of what you’re willing to do with them. So if you want to win a man over, you don’t need 10 steps, you need one, and it’s called a blowjob.” (Mike) [I didn’t have a note to go with this, I just wrote it down verbatim while rolling my eyes so hard I still have a cramp]
- Mike Chadway? Is that really his name?
- “Have you seen the eligible men in Sacramento?” Well, they got one thing right.
- HER CAT ATE HER GOLDFISH
- His demands are going to be… “scatological.” I honestly don’t know if they’re trying to make him cleverly into poop jokes or if they don’t know what scatological means and just think it sounds douchey.
- Women. Wrestling. In. Jell-O.
- “I can’t even demonstrate how far I’ve fallen because you’re not smart enough to get the references” when she talks about having had Desmond Tutu on the show. Also what? Why would Tutu ever be on any kind of Sacramento local morning news program?
- Her character would never be charmed so quickly. She smirks that he complimented “her ass” on their shopping/makeover trip.
- To be fair. He acknowledges male weaknesses, like needing to have fake orgasms because “you aren’t the only person in the room.” We always gotta protect that fragile male ego.
- He’s at her place doing a try-on-things scene? This is just like 27 Dresses, which was only a year earlier.
- He looks on from the bushes, shocked Colin is kissing her…just as they planned? Omg he has feeeeeelings. For no reason.
- I’m not even kidding. He got her a pair of vibrating underwear to reconnect her to her sexual self because she supposedly doesn’t masturbate. She accidentally has them on for the date. We already know this is going to be uncomfortable.
- He’s in love with her. I’m pretty sure the timeline is at like…two weeks. A commitment-phobic douche falls in love with Katherine Heigl in two weeks??
- Literally. The last scene. Is them having sex and her LOVING it and then he goes, “Am I really that good?” and she smiles and goes, “You’ll never know.” So….it’s romantic to learn that maybe she’s still placating him?
But that last bullet point is maybe what it all boils down to. And it brings me back to my mid-intro-writing surprise: it IS told from a fantastical lady-centric perspective. In a way, the movie is all about Abby still having all the power. She has two men at her disposal: Colin, the handsome neighbor who fulfills her entire romance checklist, and Mike, the playboy. She gets to choose between them. And as my friend astutely pointed out, she isn’t even the one who changes. At all. She dresses slightly differently, but otherwise all she does is let go just enough to fall for someone that doesn’t necessarily fit her whole checklist. In fact, she’s the one who ultimately changes the bad playboy guy. “He loves me for me without me having to change. He has to change,” my friend said. And what greater fantasy is there than that? Regardless of gender, the dream is to not have to do any work on ourselves and instead imagine a perfect romance in which the people around us change and choose to love us “just as you are” (thanks for that one, Hugh Grant). The fact that the womanizing douche stays “hot” but reveals himself as vulnerable, hurt from past experiences, and ultimately capable of loving Abby just the way she is makes perfect sense. But it’s still executed in a way that isn’t trashy; it’s just trash. And if her maintaining her power means she’s still faking her orgasms but he can’t tell, then it’s also depressing as hell.
And that’s the real ugly truth about The Ugly Truth. And yes. I made that lame joke because 1. You were waiting for it and 2. That’s the kind of shitty writing with which this movie deserves to be written about. I will continue to defend the talents of Katherine Heigl (for a more detailed defense, check out my review of 27 Dresses), but I cannot and will not defend this movie. Or whatever agent told her to do it.
— AJ Burgin