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The Ugly Truth

Director: Robert Luketic
Cast: Gerard Butler, Katherine Heigl, Bonnie Somerville, Cheryl Hines, Eric Winter, Bree Turner, Vicki Lewis, Holly Weber, Nick Searcy

(Columbia Pictures; US theatrical: 24 Jul 2009 (General release); UK theatrical: 7 Aug 2009 (General release); 2009)

I Just Don't See Myself That Way

You change your mind, like a girl changes clothes,
Yeah, you PMS like a bitch, I would know.
—Katy Perry, “Hot n Cold”


The most disappointing credit for The Ugly Truth has to be this: it is executive produced by Katherine Heigl and her mother/manger Nancy. Given how outspoken the daughter has been regarding the troubles with women’s roles in movies and TV, you’d hope she would have sought out a good one for this joint enterprise.


Alas, Abby, a Sacramento morning news show producer and self-acknowledged control freak, is not that. Smart and neurotic, she’s established right off as needing a man. Though she appears quite capable on the job, keeping her ratings-anxious boss Stuart (Nick Searcy) at bay and cajoling her husband-wife anchor team (Larry and Georgia, played by John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines) at least nominally content, she keeps the standard dullsville local stories rolling. Her real life is as uninteresting as she can handle: she keeps a cat and a schedule, assisted in the details by calendar-keeping Joy (Bree Turner), who not only keeps track of her lunch meetings, but also does background checks on her dating site-dates.


Abby’s routine is duly disrupted when Stuart, fed up with coming in last every morning, hires a controversial TV “personality,” the host of a late night cable access show called “The Ugly Truth.” According to Mike (Gerard Butler), this is that men cannot be “simple.” “We cannot be trained,” he harrumphs, but must only be attracted: women should get on their Stairmasters and realize that men aren’t interested in 10 steps, but only one: “It’s called a blow job.” Predictably horrified to hear this attitude expressed in public, Abby nevertheless takes on her new professional responsibility—with just enough of a prissy face to let you know she’s vexed.


Needless to say, Mike is a big hit on the morning show, challenging the husband-wife team to acknowledge their relationship problems: “Marriage is about social pressure, status, and sex,” he asserts. Or, put another way, she’s a bankable star = he’s unable to perform in the bedroom. “What am I supposed to do,” Georgia sniffs, “say no to the money so he can get an erection?” As this language cascades on her show, Abby frets I the control booth. By the time Mike has the couple making out for the camera, she can barely contain herself: after the shoot ends, Joy finds her in a fetal position in her office closet. Mike, meantime, quite literally becomes the gorilla on set. When the ratings skyrocket, he’s granted free rein, inviting a pair of busty girls to wrestle in jello and donning a big monkey suit to illustrate a point about men’s basic primal needs.


The inevitable love connection is initiated when Abby believes she needs help landing the man of her dreams new neighbor Colin (Eric Winter). Reluctant at first to take Mike’s advice—keep him waiting on the phone, wear a lacy push-up bra, invest in hair extensions—Abby is impressed that Colin responds as Mike promises. Rather than take this as a sign that both men are bozos or, perhaps, that she has better things to do than try out the vibrating panties Mike gives her, Abby plays along.


On one hand, this scene—a show-stopping set-piece initiated when little boy diner at the next table over gets hold of the panties’ remote control and fiddles it while Abby must entertain male clients at a business dinner—makes Heigl seems an apt successor to romantic comedic sweetheart Meg Ryan. Her gasps and contortions are certainly the next step in the performance of female orgasms for men, in part because this one is supposed to be “real, “that is, beyond Abby’s control, and in part because Heigl is a game and able performer. On another hand, this very idea—that anyone would succeed Ryan now—is cause for concern. We’re 20 years past When Harry Met Sally…, and really, the premise of entrenched male and female differences (not to mention men’s total mystification by women) is not a little Neanderthal.


That’s more or less the point, of course. Concerns about truth and untruth can’t mean much in a movie called The Ugly Truth, which does its best to suggest its title is simultaneously ironic and utterly true. As Abby learns how to perform her untrue role as a desirable woman, men fall all over themselves to possess her. As Colin is impressed by her seeming unpredictability (in large part a result of her chaotic responses to Mike’s instructions through her earpiece, deployed during an early date), he’s impressed by exactly this untruth. Mike, for his part, thinks he sees a truth in a womanly performance he essentially directs. And to come full circle, Abby thinks she sees a truth in Mike’s own performance of masculine prowess and vulnerability. The truth is, none of them sees anything you haven’t seen before. And it’s not so funny.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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