I have said it before and will likely say it again, but the romantic comedy is as stagnant a genre as there is today. For some reason, it seems to be given a pass more often than not, as opposed to, say, horror films that follow formula. Why is that? I could take a stab (pun intended), but that would lead into a completely different sort of column. Perhaps some other time.
The case at hand is The Ugly Truth and its attempts to inject a new perspective and how it ultimately falls back on the same cliches the genre has suffered from for decades, or benefited from, depending on how much you enjoy the genre. I cannot say I hated the movie, but it is definitely not all it could be.
Looking over the past couple of years' worth of romantic comedies, there are very few that stand out as taking any sort of chance. The first ones that come to mind are Definitely, Maybe and PS I Love You. Both of those films are easily accessible to mainstream audiences, but take a different angle on the genre and end up working. Then there are the movies that are your typical genre examples like The Proposal, 27 Dresses, and Made of Honor. These movies are not necessarily bad (although I would not rule it out) but they just exist as an attempt to make some money. Then there are the romantic comedies that try to offer something more to the male demographic, like My Best Friend's Girl, which fails to deliver. Sometimes I feel the genre exists solely so that those who act in them will have something to do.
The Ugly Truth comes in the wake of My Best Friend's Girl as a romantic comedy with aspirations of drawing in the male demographic. It has a good premise — it seeks to peel back the relationship veneer, to expose the sexes for what they are by revealing the reality of what everyone is looking for. While so many romantic comedies exist in some sort of fantasy land where you have love at first sight and the characters find their perfect match, this one tries to boil it down to its essence, remove the fairy tale elements, and allow the truth to shine through. Early on it works, but somewhere around the mid-point, where they decided they needed a definite direction, the fairy tale elements are brought back in as we steam towards the expected conclusion.
As the story starts, we are introduced to Abby (Katherine Heigl), a driven, by the books, television morning news producer with little time for a relationship, although she often dreams of meeting that perfect guy. She works hard but the show is struggling for ratings. The answer is seemingly found in a public access show host named Mike (Gerard Butler) who has a show called "The Ugly Truth." It is a crass, vulgar show where Mike points out the simplicity of the male species. What they want is simple, although it may not fit into the expectations that women have for them. He is charismatic, causes a reaction, and seems to be a perfect fit for the news show's problems.
The central conflict is between Mike and his piggish ways and Abby and her prim and proper visage. It is a foregone conclusion that these two will end up together — the only real question is how long it will take.
It starts out pretty good, with the awkward meet-cute of Mike and Abby, the ability that Mike has to cut through it all and target the crux of the matter, much to Abby's chagrin. These early moments attempt to deliver a more honest romantic comedy, offering "real world" advice. While I did not find it terribly believable, I did find it rather funny. The butting of heads is fun, as both of our leads seem to be quite in touch with their characters, creating a little electricity even if any character development is cut off at the knees.
If you have watched any romantic comedies over the year, you will recognize the structure here, meaning that the ebb and flow will be nothing new to you. Just watching the trailer will tell you how the story is going play out, saving me the need to lay it out any further for you. The true success of the movie lies squarely on the backs of the performers.
There is not a lot of directorial style, meaning any capable director could be behind the camera; in this case it is Robert Luketic, whose prior credits include 21, Monster in Law, and Legally Blonde, none of which are terribly stylish in the directorial sense. He can put a movie together, just don't expect much.
As for the screenplay from Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith, it is hardly groundbreaking, although I do have to wonder if any of it got cut out during the production. There are moments that seem to want to develop into something more but ultimately do not lead anywhere. In particular, I enjoyed the too few moments with Mike and his nephew, and the blown off moment later on between Mike and Abby as they discuss why Mike is the way he is. Both of these elements hinted at a screenplay that may originally have had a bit more depth in it.
With direction and writing out of the way, we are down to the performances. Katherine Heigl does a fine job playing the sort of role she seems to have been born to play. She does not offer anything new, but she seems very comfortable playing it. She has some good reaction shots and that goofy "happy dance" going in her favor. I would like to see her stretch a little and try to add something, anything, more to her performances, as this feels very similar to her 27 Dresses character. Then we have Gerard Butler, the current man's man, and he looks like he is having fun with the character, approaching it with a loose, easygoing charisma. While he has been building an image as an action guy, he does seem to have acting ability to adjust to other genres. He does a fine job of playing the superficial guy while also having some activity behind the eyes.
The supporting cast has its moments, usually with Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins. As the married anchor couple they have some very funny moments, outlandish as they are. Then there is Bree Turner, playing Abby's assistant Joy. She does a fine job, but from the tone of her performance, I have to ask, was Judy Greer not available? This is the sort of role that Greer would bring so much snarky life to. In the end, if she was available, she would likely have been wasted.
Bottom line. It is what it is. This is not a great movie, it is not a terrible movie. It has potential but fails to deliver. Still, it provides entertaining diversion, offers a few big laughs, and quickly leaves the mind on the way out. I am sure you know who you are if you think you will like this.Powered by Sidelines