The Ugly Truth (R)
Starring: Katherine Heigl
“There is Some Truth in This Rote Rom-Com”
Warning: I feel compelled to steer those who might be offended by this film in a different direction. In the guise of a harmless romantic comedy, this film contains brief nudity, pervasive expletives and an abundance of graphic sexual references. You’ve been sufficiently forewarned.
Some time ago, probably with the release of Steve Carell’s 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), romantic comedies took a sharp turn and started becoming, if not more sophisticated, more adult in their content. Many of these edgier relational comedies have, appropriately, receiving R ratings and have largely replaced their tamer PG and PG-13 counterparts released before the millennial mark. Although just as coarse as many of its forebears, The Ugly Truth, starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, has refined the nascent sub-genre of mature rom-coms into brutally honest, relationally challenging fare.
The story begins with a disgruntled news producer, Abby (Heigl), calling into Mike Chadwick’s (Butler) no-holds-barred local access show, which shares its name with the movie’s title. After a spirited debate over Stairmasters and masturbation, Mike drops Abby’s call. As fate would have it, the network hires Mike to add some spice to Abby’s flagging morning newscast…a Hail Mary to boost ratings enough to stay on the air. Abby is forced to work with Mike and, despite the adversarial energy they bring to the set, the ratings immediately skyrocket…proving yet again that sex sells. It’s a foregone conclusion that Abby and Mike will fall in love, but not before the required series of hilarious mishaps and cagey catfights, which comprise the bulk of the story, have had a chance to unfold in the most obvious and pedantic manner imaginable.
As was alluded to in my introductory warning, the subject matter and sexual references in The Ugly Truth are extremely crude and graphic, to the extent that they might even make a sex therapist blush. A cross between Howard Stern and Jim Cramer, Mike’s show gives garden-variety crassness a bad name…and yet, beyond the outrageously salacious remarks, there is some veracity in what he’s saying, both regarding the eternal battle of sexes and how both genders view the physical, psychological and emotional aspects of sex. This educational component is the saving grace of a film that otherwise would’ve ended up as this year’s 27 Dresses.
Despite its hokey romance (the dialog during the hot air balloon sequence is particularly hackneyed), the movie, by design or happy accident, has tapped into a universal quandary by attempting to answer questions regarding that most mysterious and pleasurable of human experiences. Couching such a serious subject in a seemingly innocuous rom-com allowed the writers (three of them…all female) to broach this touchy topic in a way that’s charming and disarming rather than embarrassing or off-putting. Also, by relegating the bulk of the movie’s graphic sex talk to Mike’s cable show or news segment, a buffer is added between the explicit subject and the real audience, which should make it even easier to open a dialog on the subject in hand…er, at hand.
However, for all of its in-your-face sex education, when the movie ends none of us are any closer to understanding the vagaries and exigencies of human sexuality than when the film began (except for those two teenagers making out in the back row of the theater—hand check!), but I guess that’s really the point. No one, not even Dr. Ruth or Dr. Kinsey, has fully plumbed the depths of the sexual experience. Despite what’s claimed in books or boasted about in high school locker rooms, no one has mastered the art of sex. In fact, those who brag most about their exploits in the bedroom are usually the ones who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. And that’s the ugly truth!