Here’s a funny setup for a movie: take a beautiful control-freak of a woman and make her producer of a morning show at a small TV station. Then take a scroungy but devilishly handsome guy and have him be the crude-talking cynical relationship expert who says it like he sees it, good or bad. Now, let’s make this funny by having her produce his show, even as she finds him a boor and hates what he stands for.
Could be a funny film. Unfortunately, while that describes the basic storyline of Robert Luketic’s The Ugly Truth, it isn’t a wry, sweet romantic comedy at all, but instead an exercise in crude language and relationship shock therapy barely held together by a script with so many logic and continuity gaffes that it makes you wonder if they accidentally used an early draft.
Katherine Heigl plays Abby, the producer of the KSXP 2 Sacramento morning show. She’s not a pleasant person but rather a broadly painted caricature of a controlling woman, so uptight that when she goes on a blind date, she admits to the guy that her assistant has already run a background check on him and brings “talking points” in case they have nothing to say. The problem is that Heigl is too beautiful to pull this role off. Give it to someone who is attractive, but not gorgeous, and perhaps you can believe that she’s repressed and a control freak. But Heigl? It just didn’t feel true at all.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the story, Gerard Butler plays Mike, a crude boor of a guy who, again, is (surprise) hiding some disastrous relationships from his past that have broken his heart and left him a vocal cynic and the voice of “The Ugly Truth”, the name of his zero-budget TV call-in show in the wasteland of channel 83 public access cable. Tone down his performance, let him have some lines that suggest he’s not an idiot, just a cynic, and I could have enjoyed his role.
But as it is The Ugly Truth is just an ugly movie that tries to offend with language and crude observations about relationships in a way that just didn’t work for me.
What’s frustrating about the film is that there are a lot of cute ideas and enjoyable setups, but few if any of them actually work. Abby has a checklist that helps her determine if the guy she’s dating is the perfect guy or not, but while she talks about hunky neighbor Colin (barely acted by Eric Winter) having “nine of her ten criteria”, she never actually says what’s on the list. Why? A perfect opportunity for us in the audience to agree/disagree/laugh.
[SPOILER] A bigger frustration was that there was a running gag about Abby lecturing her dates about how tap water was essentially the same as bottled water, and that it was her preference. Colin, of course, prefers bottled, but Mike explains that he prefers tap water without knowing it’s one of Abby’s “criteria”, yet instead of being a sweet hint of the ostensible kismet between the two of them, the scene just falls flat.
There were other elements that could have been interesting in a smarter script. For example, Abby had a cat named D’Artagnan, which I found amusing: D’Artagnan is one of the Three Musketeers, so why have a cat with that name unless Abby sees herself as “fighting for innocence and purity”? That wasn’t developed at all.
In another scene reminiscent of the brilliant deli scene in When Harry Met Sally, Abby finds herself being sexually stimulated while attending a business dinner, but it again ends up flat, with pedestrian puns and odd and unbelievable reactions by the other diners. In When Harry Met Sally, everyone in the audience laughs with the “I’ll have what she’s having” line. In The Ugly Truth the audience just gaped at the screen in disbelief.
Another thing that struck me forcibly as the film progressed was just how excruciatingly bad the dialogue was in points. Heigl must have had nightmares trying to memorize these incredibly dry lines that were supposed to make her seem like a brainiac, but this wasn’t done consistently throughout the film, just when she was at the TV studio (more than one dialogue writer?) so it just seemed jarring and lame. At other times, the repartee between her and Butler was quite witty and delightful: where was the consistency?
Okay, so I’m a guy who usually prefers a good action film to a romantic comedy anyway, but when I compare The Ugly Truth with the other romantic comedy being released this weekend, (500) Days of Summer (read my review), it’s quite a contrast. 500 Days is warm, sweet and engaging, with quirky but likable characters. Ugly is overrun with caricatures, crude language, and inane setups, by contrast, and is a far inferior movie.
Frankly, Robert Luketic has done better work and he clearly likes romantic comedies, having directed both Legally Blonde, and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, along with the rough, but interesting 21. All three of them are better than The Ugly Truth.
There are some interesting observations about male and female perspectives on relationships and what we’re really thinking versus what we say or how we behave, but there are so many films that have addressed this in a wittier, lighter, more amusing fashion that all I can suggest is that you save your money and skip The Ugly Truth.