The Ugly Truth
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The Ugly Truth

There are many reasons people go to see romantic comedies. This list does not include the desire to see a great example of the cinematic arts. Women like them because they are a visual substitute for the traditional female guilty pleasure, the romance novel. For men the reason to go to this kind of film is much more obvious and integrally tied to why men only watch them with their girlfriends. As such rating this type of movie requires different criteria. Part of that judgmental methodology is heavily dependent on the critic’s gender. Being a person in possession of a ‘Y’ chromosome and a widower my reaction to a rom-com is understandably shaded. In general I find them enjoyable enough with some of the better ones are capable of providing reasonable entertainment. One thing that must be kept in mind is traditionally romantic comedies elevate young actresses into the exalted position of ‘America’s Sweetheart’. If you look back at the women given that title the list would include such well regarded actresses as Doris Day Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon. One of the latest actresses to specialize in these movies is Katherine Heigl. Acting since childhood she left an extremely popular prime time soap opera, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. This led to a film career that has been dominated by a string of romantic comedies that is still being extended. One film in this catalogue is considered here, ‘The Ugly Truth’. Heigl’s co-star here is Gerard Butler. Again in typical fashion the women in a rom-com usually become typed-cast while the men have greater latitude to seek roles in a greater variety of parts. Butler has more leeway to explore action roles such as ‘300’ than his co-star can. This is actually brilliant casting on the part of the producers; to include a male lead the guys in the audience already know and appreciate. Although he doesn’t sport his CGI six pack abs here ‘The Ugly Truth’ does count as a Gerard Butler flick. This particular example of the genre suffers from the usual flaws inherent to its ilk but it is reasonably fun to watch just do not expect most guys to admit it over s few beers at the local sports bar.

In a large percentage of romantic comedies the general premise can be ascertained by the description of the leads. In this film Heigl plays Abby Richter, a morning TV show producer with a habit for failed relationships. Juxtaposed to her is Mike Chadway, nicely played by Butler. He is a male chauvinist commentator completely cynical about relationships. In other words romantic comedies ‘dream team’. Next, after establishing which personality archetypes are pressed into service the writer, in this case the team of Nicole Eastman and Karen McCullah Lutz, has to contrive a way to collide them together. It bears noting that this is the first experience in films for Ms Eastman but Ms Lutz has fairly extensive experience in the genre. When the ratings for Abby’s show plummet the executives decide a drastic change is needed. They decide to include a segment with Mike as a relationship curmudgeon in a segment titled ‘The Ugly Truth’. Now that the board has been set up it’s time for the opening gambit. It is standard rom-com play book the couple to be has to hate each other. It is taking the old saying about opposites taken too extremes. Abby sees Mike as a misogynous bully while he sees Abby as an uptight control freak. The movie proceeds in a predictable fashion. While this is typical the harbinger of doom for most films in the case of this genre the target audience seems to find a comfort in the predictability on a rom-com plot. Enter the ‘other man’, Colin (Eric Winter). The purpose of this character is providing the romance that is the red herring, doomed to fail. It also presents the platform for the humor as Abby reluctantly agrees to let Mike help her avoid running her relationship with Colin. In most cases the romantic comedy depends on a third wheel to drive the comedy although usually it’s the male lead not the supporting actor. The deal is struck that Abby will let Mike call the shots with her relationship with Colin with Mike leaving the morning show hanging in the balance. This is also keeping with the tradition; the contrived arrangement that would be ridiculous in any other setting. Of course it is hardly giving a spoiler to state that in the end Abby and Mike wind up together. There is almost never a surprise ending in a rom-com. That is also part of what fans of the genre expect.

Whether this type of film succeeds is completely depended on the innate chemistry between the leads and the ability of the director to maintain a consistently lively pace and pull the audience into an admittedly improbable set of circumstances. Robert Luketic has a considerable amount of experience making these films including ‘Legally Blond’ and another Heigl offering, ‘Killers’. He does keep things on track and managers to illicit some ‘naughty laughs with a pair of remote control vibrating panties, an important dinner meeting and a misplaced controller. This helps by introducing a touch sex farce elements into the mix. Heigl and Butler play their roles well off each other giving the requisite unlikely couple. For an actor well known for action roles he does comedy with an unexpected flair. Some of his success with his character may be a result of the expertise of his co-star. Ms Heigl has garnered considerable proficiency in rom-coms. She paid her dues in a variety of roles from science fiction to prime time soap operas. The fact is although her films never receive critical acclaim she pills in the box office. There is something about a gorgeous young woman with a real knack for physical comedy. Heigl has master this type of role and the fans are loyal and fill the theater seats.

Posted 05/01/12

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