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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Ugly Truth (review)

The Pig and the Prig

I’m trying to figure out when “romantic comedies” turned into “let’s throw two really despicable and unpleasant people together in the first act so they can hate on each other through the second act until they magically fall in love in the third act.” Cuz this is a cinematic development to be despised, and possibly one to start a revolution to overthrow.
I’m trying to figure out what kind of self-hating circle jerk is involved on the parts of three female screenwriters who collaborate to create one of the most horrid female protagonists since, well, The Proposal, and then go on to treat her in such an unforgivable way… while also being so easy and tolerant of their pig of a “hero.” Cuz this is an antifeminist development to be despised. Not that women writers must always create likeable female characters, but even complicated, fucked-up female characters deserve to be treated fairly by their creators.

Why, it’s almost as if Nicole Eastman and the team of Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (The House Bunny, Ella Enchanted) were taking their own distastefully retro advice. You know, the advice they not-so-subliminally slipped into The Ugly Truth: If women are romantically unhappy, it’s all their own fault for expecting too much from men, who are merely simple, beastlike creatures, after all. Women should just let men be men. But women should not expect the same courtesy from men — oh no. While women are letting men be who they are, women must be what men want them to be: if men want to fuck Playboy bunnies in tubs of cherry Jell-O, then a woman has to become a fuckable Playboy bunny with Jell-O at the ready.

Now, sure, it’s true that Gerard Butler’s (Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood, RocknRolla) Mike is — you’ll be shocked to learn — a condescending, misogynistic asshole only because he’s a deeply emotional guy who’s smarting, way down inside his itty bitty little boy self, from an unhealed broken heart that damaged him so badly that, gosh, he may never recover. But hey, he’s a guy: we have to expect this of him! The Ugly Truth is awfully tolerant of Mike’s peccadilloes, even down to his anti-woman, anti-romance, pro-random-fucking ravings becoming a huge hit on Sacramento morning television. Mike is, we’re meant to see, loose and laid back and charming and just an all-around regular guy who’s been burned. Awwww. And he’s only tellin’ it like it is, anyway (even if he does sorta learn a teeny weeny bit later on that maybe he’s not entirely right about women, and what men want from women). Anyone can see that.

Katherine Heigl’s (Knocked Up) Abby, on the other hand… She’s Mike’s morning-show producer, and though she’s ostensibly an adult, I can’t recall a more childish woman onscreen since, well, perhaps Heigl’s own atrocity 27 Dresses from last year. She lets herself be completely undermined not only by her male boss but her male colleagues and her male underlings. She’s incapable of asserting herself in the least bit, even when it’s a matter of some personal necessity. She’s petulant, uptight, anal, and intensely, profoundly annoying. But are all her weird idiosyncracies allowed by the film as symptomatic of her own heartbreak or hurt or romantic disappointment? Of course not! The script as well as director Robert Luketic (21, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!) are entirely unforgiving to Abby. When Mike brands her a “psycho aggressive freak” and “desperate” for having the audacity to ask out a new neighbor she finds attractive (Eric Winter: TV’s Moonlight and Viva Laughlin), does Mike turn out to be wrong in his assessment? Not at all. Mike’s a pig, but he’s got women all over him. Abby’s just sad and lonely.

And just when you think she cannot possibly get any more juvenile, surprise! Abby turns out to be a prude and a prig, too, and so must be taught a lesson. Twenty years ago, Meg Ryan’s Sally was faking an orgasm in a restaurant as a demonstration of her own sexual power. Today, Heigl must be humiliated in a scene that’s the flip side of that classic one by having control over her own body wrested away… for her own good, you understand. Oh, absolutely everyone will be talking about that scene, because it involves a sex toy, and because it confirms the notion that there’s just one thing that a bad-tempered shrew really needs…

As Abby might say, in her demure pseudo daintiness, What the F?

Watch The Ugly Truth online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

MPAA: rated R for sexual content and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • MattyMat

    Good review— I wish moree critiques were as straight-up as you!!

  • Kate

    “The Ugly Truth” sounds like a perfect storm of misogyny and misandry.

  • Kate

    Katherine Heigl sure is making it easy on moviegoers to make decisions. It’s simple: if she’s in it, don’t see it. $10 and 2 hours saved. Easy-peasy.

  • I gotta go find a tub and fill it with Jell-O.

  • Patrick

    Perhaps the problem with the increasing “cretin-ization” of romantic comedies stems from something deeper than gender role dynamics.

    I remember a line in “Unbreakable” where Sam Jackson’s character makes a terrific observation: “We live in mediocre times.” And if this is true, these are the movies (romantic or otherwise) we get. Studios believe (rightly and sadly) that characters behaving maturely and intelligently about the matters of romance and relationships.

    MaryAnn, you’re not going to find intelligence and maturity in romantic comedies at the multiplex except in a 1 in a 100 shot fluke–try your local indie theater instead because we live in a world that gravitates with Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” and sneers at Kevin Smith’s “Chasing Amy”.

  • t6

    Well, MAJ has to go to both the multiplex and the indie theatre…it is her job afterall.

    And Chasing Amy was homophobic crap, in my opinion.

  • Of course it’s a bad movie. Any romantic comedy without John Cusak is a failure.

  • Anne-Kari

    Seems like a good time to reiterate my desperate request for a FlickFilosopher list of GOOD romcoms.

  • Randall Graves

    Love your review, but please, add a synopsis of the plot in your reviews of movies you hate. I realize this film probably doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of, but it’s easier to understand what you’re talking about when we have an idea what the movie is about.

  • Victor Plenty

    Randall, you’re joking, right? How could anybody possibly read this review and come away with no idea what the movie is about?

  • Pedro

    God, Heigl is a bad actress! As much as I love Grey’s Anatomy (and I do), Izzy just irks the living hairs out of me! She is by far the worse actress on that show – and I’m including the Dynamic Duo of McDreamy and McSteamy, as well as the insufferable Meredith, in my assessment.

    How she ever ended up in a Seth Rogen movie is beyond my comprehension.

  • AJP

    Umm, all the actresses with any talent were smart enough to turn the part down?

  • No, Randall, noooooooooooooooooooooo!!!

    I hate plot synopsis in movie reviews. How hard is it for you to find a summary of the film on the internet? Or you could read Ebert’s reviews. He always summarizes the entire movie.

    Critics need to summarize less. People read movie reviews for critical opinion and analysis, not a lengthy synopsis.

  • Pedro

    Hey, quit dissin’ my man Seth Rogen! :p

  • jeez — you can figure out the entire plot of the movie just from the commercials advertising it! i haven’t seen and certainly don’t plan to and i know *exactly* what will happen.

  • Accounting Ninja

    I’m with Frank. Plot summaries are boring. Plus, I like opinions. I have more respect for an opinion I disagree with than just a noncommittal plot summary. They’re called film critics, not film…plot summarizers…yeah.
    Anyway, I love how sometimes MAJ will not talk about the movie itself, but the ideas BEHIND the movie. Even if I don’t get the same ideas she does, I like it because it shows the ol’ neurons a-firin’. Critical thinking FTW!

  • Randall Graves

    Wow, this never happens on the internet, but you guys actually changed my mind. I agree.

  • stephanie b

    Late to the party, but I agree with t6 that Chasing Amy is homophobic crap that panders to men’s egos.

    Also, I keep thinking (just for a second) that this film is a Michael Moore documentary whenever I read/hear the title.

  • Drew Ryce

    Mediocre times?
    Maybe, I can’t tell. For sure, Heigle and Butler aren’t Tracy and Hepburn, but are they really worse than Rock Hudson and Doris Day?

  • ….Chasing Amy is homophobic crap

    Wow! A movie in which the most homophobic guy is presented as being an outright jerk, the would-be sensitive new age guy/protagonist is presented as being a more subtle jerk, and the most likable and admirable character proves to be a “lesbian” character with a sexual history that includes both men and women…is thought to be homophobic.

    I must confess that for the most part, there are only two scenes in the entire movie that I really like all that much: the scene in which one character explains the title and the scene in which the lead female character explains her rationale for falling in love with someone she wasn’t “supposed to.”

    But given all the love this film has received from critics in times past, I have to ask: why exactly is this film seen as being homophobic?

  • Ideological film reviews are quite tiresome. A film can be good or bad regardless of whether or not you are comfortable with its message or subtext.

  • Victor Plenty

    Every review is ideological. If you think one is not, that’s only because it agrees with your ideology.

    If you think you don’t have an ideology, that is only because you have unthinkingly accepted one of the dominant mainstream ideologies.

    In this case, the so-called “ugly truth” is a perfect example of a dominant ideology. All women want blah blah blah but they won’t be happy until they accept that men can only provide blech blech blech, etc.

  • Social Avengers

    Dear Maryann,

    Thank you for your enlightened response to the movie The Ugly Truth, which you so aptly titled the Pig and Prig. You nailed the sheer “ugliness” of its content that was not only directed toward women, but toward men, as well. My husband and I watched this slovenly-written piece of social commentary tonight and squirmed in our seats at the smug triumph and “returning glory” of male chauvinism in the 21st century. We are both writers and children of the 60’s and asked where did women’s and men’s liberation go?

    We too, like you, were disgusted at the repulsively piggish lowbrow IQ of the leading man (Gerard Butler) who brought down his beautiful and powerful, but nonetheless incompetent/brainless counterpart (Kathryn Heigl), with possibly the most offensive on-screen performance (in this type of movie genre) we have ever uncomfortably sat through. What was his motive? or the writers? Was it to educate hi-brow women about what they REALLY wanted?? To jump into bed with redneck, offensive “real men”… the Rush Limbaugh types who live, breathe, and talk porno all day long and whose brain, breath and armpits smell just like excrement?? What is even worse than Butler’s repulsive caricature of manhood is the fact that Heigl actually CHOSE HIM instead of her educated, adoring and handsome young doctor-pursuer (who was actually tagged “gay” because of his sensitivity and education)!!

    We were in an audience with mainly a young crowd (teens/early twenties). We were very concerned about the sexual messages this piece of disgusting trash was putting in their minds about male/female roles/relationships, especially since most of the laughing and cheering was by males. Strangely, we observed that the young women had little response…could it have been embarrassment… or confusion? We certainly hope so.

    My husband and I stomached the duration of the movie…just to see the predictable ending about how the Pig and Prig end up together. We were so angry driving home that we decided to research those who had so irresponsibly put together such movie making crap. To find out that the writers were three women (not just one) really blew us away!! Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith have obviously forgotten the eons-long struggle against male oppression and exploitation and instead, have adopted their oppressor’s mentality! They wrote this movie script as if they were prostitutes…selling themselves out (and women as a whole) with the same old cheapness and empty headedness that their male pimps set them up to be. Other copy-cat movies could follow, putting into motion yet-another age old, patriarchal step backwards in equality for women. These women writers owe a huge apology to the plight of women world wide and to those women who have fought so hard to end the social and sexual war against them!!

    Kathryn Heigl and Gerard Butler—two superstars who could choose any role—shame on you for degrading women and men alike!! We share the view that movie makers: actors, writers, directors and producers ALL have the same responsibility to EMPOWER humans…not dis-empower them to a lowly state of human ugliness. Yes…movies DO have that kind of power and influence in our lives…life and art DO imitate each other!

    The Social Avengers, July 2009

  • “All film reviews are ideological” — no, only the tiresome ones.

  • Victor Plenty

    Andy, you’re admitting your attack has no substance whatsoever. After tossing in what you imagine to be devastating rhetorical grenades, by merely labeling the review “ideological” and “tiresome,” you declare victory and limp away.

    Sadly, your grenades were duds. Defeat is yours.

    Better luck next time.

  • Mitch

    For all you haters! You may not like the plot or the characters but it’s about as close to the truth as it gets. Sometimes the truth hurts! As ugly as it may seem to you; get over it because it is pretty accurate. You’ve got to admit the movie is hilarious!

  • MaryAnn

    OMG, Mitch is so right! I HAVE TO admit that the movie is hilarious, and totally TRUE!

    How could I not have seen this before?

    Mitch, you’re a genius.

  • Thurman Ulrich

    I watched the movie three times and read your review over and over again, often while the movie was playing to delve into what you were saying, and I still failed to see how any of what you said bears any truth. I don’t want to talk about this extensively, so I will touch on it lightly in point form.

    1) If someone is romantically unhappy, it’s often because they’re setting unrealistic expectations for their partner to achieve. Why would it be men’s fault that they’re not meeting the demands YOU have set? If YOU set those expectations, and someone fails those, then you have no one else to blame but yourself. If no one is fulfilling your romantic expectations, then perhaps you have to give up on romance altogether. No one is obliged to change on your behalf.

    2) The issue of allowing men being men is not decided by women, and shouldn’t be. Men are allowed to be whoever they want.

    3) I don’t see anywhere in the movie where it implies that women should change on men’s behalf. Being asked to change your expectations (Ketherine’s characters expectations from men was horribly unreasonable) to further YOUR happiness is not the same as asking your to conform to men’s demands. Women shouldn’t conform to men’s demands and should be allowed to be who they are – there was no such insinuation in the movie that women should conform. Since this is focusing on a woman who is unhappy and unable to find love, asking her to change her ways is the right course of action. If I have some unrealistic expectation from women and cannot find a woman as a result, who is to blame, women or my unrealistic expectations?

    4) I don’t know where you got the impression that her faults were not forgiven due to heartbreak in her life.

    5) Why is being a prude and a prig considered juvenile? The film attempted to explore whether or not she was having quality alone time. In fact, Gerad’s character constantly said that flicking the bean will loosen her up and help her talk.

    6) Lol, Heigel’s character was playing around in her underwear and got caught at the wrong moment. What transpired was a bit of humour at her expense. Movies are filled with men getting themselves in embarrassing situations while having a bit of alone time, why not show women getting into some embarrassing situations? Why is portraying an embarrassing situation seen as a negative thing and an attempt to control her sexuality?

    7)” by having control over her own body wrested away…”

    Lol. It’s amusing when we are put in situations that are completely out of our control, like when you get caught with your pants around your knees with the dog licking you, or screwing a pie. Why should women be exempt from embarrassing situations?

    8)”talking about that scene, because it involves a sex toy, and because it confirms the notion that there’s just one thing that a bad-tempered shrew really needs…”

    Everyone will be talking about it for the same reason people talk about a guy screwing a pie, or ejaculating early or caught wanking – it’s embarrassing.

    I think you’re reading WAY too much into this movie.

  • I didn’t find that pie-screwing scene funny. But the difference there is that the guy CHOOSE to screw a pie. There was no choice involved in what happens to the woman here. Not cool.

  • Thurman Ulrich

    Yes, but in both circumstances the subsequent humiliation that followed was accidental and prolonged. In neither case did the victim ask for the humiliation – a bad combination of events led to the father walking in on him screwing the pie, and in her case she chose to wear the underwear and bring vibrator, which eventually led to it being found by a curious child who started playing with it.

    I appreciate you taking the time to reply.

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