‘The Ugly Truth’ movie review: Gerard Butler, Katherine Heigl in ugly rom-com

Ugly is right. Following in the footsteps of What Happens in Vegas, The Ugly Truth continues a disturbing new breed of raunchy romantic comedy; it panders to members of both sexes, and manages to insult them equally. Here’s a film where the makers’ disdain for their audience is palpable; “you see these reprehensible characters on the screen?” they ask us. “That’s what we think of you.”

Katharine Heigl stars as Abby, a high-powered producer on a local news show; Gerard Butler is Mike, the macho host of The Ugly Truth, a self-help public access television show for men. 

They’re the opposites that come to blows and eventually attract, but really, they may as well have been playing Nurse Ratched  and Leatherface (and I daresay we would more sympathy for them if that were the case): Abby is a flighty, faux-professional high-maintenance ‘dumb blonde’, while Mike is a just a sexist pig.

Two more unpleasant characters I couldn’t imagine, but just for fun, let’s spend 90 minutes with them in a light romantic comedy. To boost ratings, ‘shock jock’ Mike is brought on to Abby’s news program. They clash at first, as Mike introduces a new brand of infotainment that involves jell-o wrestling, but he soon cuts a deal with the desperate Abby: if he can help her in her love life (seduce her hot new next door neighbor), she’ll stop verbally assaulting him every chance she gets. 

This leads to some lovely scenes detailing a lesson on eating a hot dog in front of a man, and why you shouldn’t wear vibrating panties out to a company dinner. And bring the remote with you. And then misplace it.

What really struck me here is how far this film is removed from reality: if you’ve ever seen a decent movie about the inner-workings of a news program, like Network, or Broadcast News, or hell, even Anchorman, you’ll have some idea of how things work behind the camera. 

The Ugly Truth features off-script, entirely improvised news segments that the producers never cut away from, even when they go on forever, or bring the cameras on excursions outside the studio, or when the f-bombs start dropping. I’m not asking for journalistic integrity from this movie, but you’d think they’d throw it in just to look good.

The Ugly Truth was written by three women (!), who seem to have based the personalities of their lead characters off a domestic disturbance call from an episode of Cops: “y’know, I hate these awful people, but they’re the ones coming to see our movies.” The director was Robert Luketic, who made the Jane Fonda/Jennifer Lopez misfire Monster-in-Law and Legally Blonde, which at least knew what it was and let the audience in on the joke.

Heigl and Butler are talented and likable performers; at least, in other movies. Here, they’re annoying caricatures, and for most of the film they’re downright unpleasant to be around. The lone bright spots in the cast are John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines as an unhappily married news team.

Heigl gained some notoriety for her comments on Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up in an issue of Vanity Fair, where she called the film “a little sexist”; I’d really like to know what she thinks of this one.  

All those abhorrent characteristics on display The Ugly Truth, including rampant sexism, are representative of the film as a whole. The message here: Abby, the successful but romantically-challenged producer, needs to be repeatedly humiliated and knocked down a few pegs before she can win a lovely misogynistic beau like Mike. Ugh.

I hated this movie with such a passion that I almost want to doubt my objectivity on the issue. Others seem to have given it a pass, but proceed with caution.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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