THE PLANK JULY 28, 2009
The title of The Ugly Truth echoes that of The Awful Truth, the 1937 Cary Grant-Irene Dunne battle-of-the-sexes film that essentially invented the comic-romantic persona that Grant would wear with such panache for the duration of his career. But the movie's true forbear is When Harry Met Sally, which it apes both in broad contour--here, again, a crass Lothario (Gerard Butler) tries to teach an uptight control-freak (Katherine Heigl) that all men are sex-obsessed pigs--and in a variety of particulars. Notable among the latter is a scene, recalling Meg Ryan's epochal deli orgasm, in which Heigl's character, Abby, accidentally wears a pair of remote-controlled, vibrating underpants to a business meeting, loses the remote, and is driven to a public climax by the preadolescent boy who happens to pick it up.
The movie boasts countless gags of comparable quality and sophistication: A blind date in which Abby informs her potential suitor that she has done a background check on him, that he fulfills nine of her ten criteria for the perfect man, and that she's prepared for him a list of suitable topics of conversation (message: she's crazy!); an attempt to rescue her cat from a tree during which Abby gazes lustily at a seminude neighbor, falls, and is caught upside-down in the foliage, inverting her skirt (message: she's desperate! and clumsy! and wears granny panties!); and on and on. In all, I think it's safe to say that the concerns about sexism in cinema that Heigl voiced so ardently after her career-making turn in Knocked Up have ebbed in direct proportion to the increases in her subsequent paychecks.
But the worst moment in The Ugly Truth--and it is a film in which nearly every scene seems to be vying for this distinction--comes at the conclusion. (Spoilers follow, but trust me, this is a film best experienced in capsule form.) By this time, Butler's character, Mike, a kind of television sex-advice shock jock, has helped Abby win the love of her hunky neighbor (a doctor, of course), by training her to be more submissive, to stick her boobs out, and to laugh at all his jokes, funny or otherwise. Indeed, the transformation is so complete that when Abby asks the doctor (Eric Winter) why he likes her, he explains that it is because she never tries to control anything and leaves all the decisions to him. Abby and doc split (of course), and Abby and Mike belatedly recognize that they are in love with one another (of course). When Abby asks Mike why he's in love with her, I anticipated another When Harry Met Sally moment, a variation on Billy Crystal's "I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich" speech. This is, after all, the movie's "teachable" moment, in which it could blandly redeem its pitiless sexual caricature by declaring that Abby's perceived flaws are in fact lovable idiosyncrasies. Instead, Mike answers, "I have no goddamn idea." Because, really, what man could love a woman like her?