by Mel Valentin
Genres don’t get more formulaic or predictable than the romantic comedy. Over seventy or eighty years, the romantic comedy genre has calcified into a rigid set of plot points and character interactions, all in service of a (usually) conservative agenda: the elevation of heterosexual monogamy as an aspirational romantic ideal, with some minor, cosmetic variation (e.g., marriage is implied, but not always a given, the occasional gay or lesbian couple as primary romantic partners). It’s not surprising then that "The Ugly Truth," the latest in a seemingly endless series of romantic comedies, is just as formulaic, predictable, non-edgy, and ultimately forgettable as its myriad predecessors and, presumably, its myriad successors, at the box office.The Ugly Truth follows Abby (Katherine Heigl), a hyper-competent, work-obsessed, romantically challenged producer for a morning television program in Sacramento. With the ratings on a permanent downward spiral and the married co-hosts of the morning show, Larry (John Michael Higgins) and Georgia (Cheryl Hines), showing every sign of heading for an on-air blowout, Abby’s boss decides to bring in Mike (Gerard Butler), the perpetually unshaven, popular host of a cable program, “The Ugly Truth.” On his show, Mike expounds about male-female relationships, unrealistic expectations, and anything else that comes to mind. He’s crude, rude, and vulgar, making him, at best, an imperfect fit for Abby’s conception of morning television. Abby, stuck between the cancellation of the morning show and making her peace with Mike, chooses the latter.
"Another in a seemingly endless series of banal, uninspired rom-coms."
In clichéd battle-of-the-sexes form, Abby and Mike dislike each other almost immediately. Abby sees everything she doesn’t like in the macho, swaggering, sexist Mike. For his part, Mike sees Abby as a controlling, distant, unemotional woman who’s lost touch with her sexuality. With Mike’s (slightly) outrageous advice, the morning show becomes a hit again. Soon enough, network executives start circling Mike. When, however, Abby meets Colin (Eric Winter), her new neighbor and a doctor, she (inexplicably) turns to Mike for help in snagging Colin. Mike instructs Abby in how to behave (play hot and cold), how to dress (slutty helps), and, among other bits of romance-related wisdom, to withhold sex with Colin the better to manipulate him.
Of course, a romantic triangle forms between Mike, Abby, and Colin. Abby thinks she’s met the perfect (if bland) man of her dreams in Colin. Mike’s boorish behavior hides a typically sensitive male. He lives in a cottage behind his sister’s house so he can mentor his preteen nephew. His sex-first, conversation later attitude hides a sentimental romantic who’s never met the right woman (until Abby, that is). Most of The Ugly Truth centers on Mike helping Abby snare Colin, Mike falling in love with Abby (unconvincingly, given a weak script), and Abby recognizing that what she needs isn’t an idealized man, but someone, to her surprise (if not ours) that looks and sounds like Mike.No one expects insight into the vagaries or complexities of modern romance from romantic comedies and, at least in that respect, "The Ugly Truth" doesn’t disappoint. Written by Nicole Eastman and Karen McCullah Lutz and directed by Robert Luketic, "The Ugly Truth" includes every romantic comedy convention, every romantic comedy cliché, but manages, in a small act of kindness to the audience, to substitute the obligatory race to the airport scene with a clumsily directed, poorly rendered CG scene involving a hot-air balloon. All that anger and strong dislike (Abby and Mike never actually hate each other) dissipates when true, romantic love shows its face (and it looks like Abby on one side and Mike on the other). Heigl and Butler work hard to sell the clichés, but their on-off chemistry or the “R” rating (for not so raunchy language and one semi-imaginative scene involving self-pleasuring underwear) isn’t enough to save an otherwise banal, uninspired romantic comedy.
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originally posted: 07/24/09 18:40:29