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Review: The Ugly Truth

By  · Published on July 24th, 2009

If you’ve ever wanted to see Katherine Heigl say the word “cock” over and over again, you may actually have some reason to check out this movie. I know it’s a bit surprising, but most things about this movie are. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily work or ever rise much above the base level of romantic comedy, but it was definitely refreshing to see some innovation in the field even if the boundaries just won’t stretch all that far.

In the typical set up, we’ve got the uptight, gorgeous but romantically inept morning show producer Abby (Heigl) who detests that her boss has hired ultra-Neanderthal man Mike (Gerard Butler) for a new segment on the show. As his dating segment gets more and more popular, he helps her seduce the man of her dreams.

So since you can pretty much already see where it’s going, what’s the innovation I’m talking about? Well, first of all it’s nothing really new so much as it hasn’t been done in a very long time. The basic premise of the movie is the self-same stock we’ve seen for years (which drags it down), but it focuses most of the sex humor on the woman and creates a character in Mike that is truly raunchy. Butler’s character is what carries the movie for two reasons. One, I’m a guy, and I fully recognize that it was nice to see an actually chauvinistic male romantic lead. In most romantic comedies, the male lead still has to be likable so he ends up being a little rough around the edges, but not so bad that he can’t be cleaned up. Mike is truly offensive, calling women ugly, telling them to get what they want by giving blow jobs and finding intense humor in Abby’s pain. Essentially, he’s the typical “Guys Just Want a Steak and a Blow Job” lead, but he actually talks about blow jobs. In that way, it’s like a romantic comedy for real adults who recognize sex (even the really fun, kinky stuff) as an essential part to romance.

The second reason he carries it, and one not directly linked to my male bias, is that Katherine Heigl just can’t do it. For the second time in a major film, she plays a woman who is trying to loosen up, find vulnerability and fall in love. For whatever reason, Heigl plays the part almost too well. She seems miserable. I have enough trouble with actors that always play the same part, and it seems like her type-casting is beginning to be as an uptight bitch. There’s no warmth there, and without it, it’s very hard to love her character. When she smiles on screen, it looks like she’s smiling for the first time in her life.

The story being what it is, there isn’t much to talk about. If you’ve seen a romantic comedy, you’ve seen this movie, or at least most of it. Lessons are learned about what makes a truly perfect match, a guy who has his defenses up lets them down, and a wacky scenario becomes an excuse for two people to get close enough to one another to fall in love.

The other thing the story does that’s interesting is to blend American Pie-style sex comedy into the woman’s role. Think about the embarrassing stuff that happens to Jason Bigg’s character in that film and apply it to Katherine Heigl’s Abby. She gets caught in a tree without pants, wears a vibrating sexual aid to a company dinner, and gets caught by the Kiss Cam going to town on a guy’s crotch during a baseball game. Most of it works to either make you squirm or laugh or both. However, by the time you walk out of the theater, you’ll find it difficult to remember what exactly you laughed at.

On the plus side, the movie does right to populate the world with great side characters. Abby’s best friend and assistant is played by Bree Turner, who once again reminds me that I love Bree Turner. I have no idea why she isn’t in leading roles – she’s funny, obviously beautiful and has more nuance than Heigl. I realize it’s easier to play a supporting role in this type of movie than to play the lead, but it feels like Turner should get a shot one of these days instead of being relegated to the sidelines. Of course Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins are as funny as they usually are – playing a married couple who co-anchor a morning show together. The chemistry works really well, and they nail a ton of the comedic timing. Unsurprising for the veterans.

It’s not a great movie, but it’s a movie that guys will find themselves laughing at alongside the girls that take them to it. In that way, it succeeds as a romantic comedy and might teach the rest of the genre that a little cursing and genuine raunch goes a long way. You’re going to get an R-rating anyway right? Beyond that, it both works as a first date or a fiftieth date movie.

Over all, the movie has some fantastic strong points, but they are fighting, struggling, killing themselves up against the albatross of Katherine Heigl. She seems like she could be a brilliant comedic actress if she didn’t look so pissed off all the time. She looks like she has absolutely no fun which translates negative energy out from the screen. I realize that her character is supposed to be a control freak who is unhappy, but there’s a way to play the role with a wink and a smirk that Heigl hasn’t figured out yet. She’s figured out how to say “cock” a lot and make masturbatory gestures with her hands, though, so it’s clear that she’s willing to go different places for humor. I just wish she’d seem more enthusiastic about the journey there.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.