By now, you’ve heard that The Ugly Truth, starring Katherine Heigl as a TV news producer who is forced to work with on-air “talent” (Gerard Butler) who preaches that men are exactly who women fear they are – then agrees to follow his advice to either land the man of her dreams or have the right to fire him – blows. I braved the 14 percent Tomatometer rating, finally saw it, and… I enjoyed it. Judging by the laughter I heard, so did others in the theater. (I know! I was surprised there were “others,” too. I’d expected a private screening like when I went to see Rhinestone in 1984.)
Now before you jump on me like a couple of colleagues did after reading my confession in my Facebook status (“That movie was really vile”), I’m willing to admit that my expectations were low knowing that the general response to the film has been disgust, and that I won’t be sitting through it as many time as I do The American President when it hits cable. But I’ve seen enough sappy romantic comedies – and enjoyed them too, full disclosure – that I somehow appreciated having to squirm in my seat as that vibrating panties scene went on waaaaay too long. (Though really, any woman would have taken the 30 seconds to change out of them before answering the door and heading out to dinner because they were black and her dress was white). Yes, the explicit sex talk sprinkled throughout was jarring in a glossy romantic comedy marketed to women (we don’t often hear the word “orifices”), and it could’ve been written more cleverly, but that jolt was something new. And again, I laughed. Frequently.
As for the film’s message: As scared as I am as a single woman to think that Butler’s character speaks the truth for most men, what he told Heigl’s to change about herself to land her guy (Eric Winter, in a role offensively generic) is no different than what women tend to do on their own in romantic comedies. The only difference is, women don’t usually talk about the sex-me-up, dial-my-Type-A-personality-down plan; the “evolution” is set to a musical montage so audiences don’t have enough quiet to debate for whom she’s really embracing her sexuality. (That said, I totally buy what Butler’s character said: If you don’t want to have sex with you, why should anyone else?) In the end, the ugly truth isn’t that all straight men want a woman who won’t challenge them or express a contrary opinion, but that even a smart woman is willing to pretend to be someone like that to get a guy who fulfills all the requirements on her checklist. At least when she does, she’ll realize that she’ll never be happy hearing him say “I love you” because she’ll always know that the “you” isn’t her. And you can’t blame a guy for liking a simple facade, if that’s what you built for him.
Photo credit: Saeed Adyani