I thought The Ugly Truth was going to be about a driven, idealistic woman who learns that all men are assholes and falls for their king. Turns out, I hated it for a completely different reason.
Warning: Spoilers follow, insomuch as any part of the plot of this movie can truly be spoiled.
As we summed up last week, The Ugly Truth follows TV producer Abby (Katherine Heigl) and raunchy host Mike (Gerard Butler), whose show basically tells viewers that all guys think with their dicks and the path to a successful relationship is paved with blowjobs. Abby, meanwhile, is holding out for a man who loves red wine, cats, and emotional connection, and when she meets such a man, she enlists Mike's help in snagging him. Said man (I was going to look up his name, but I think it says more about the movie that I've forgotten it, and you don't need to know it either) is a totally uninteresting and asexual cipher, and it's no surprise that Abby falls in love with Mike instead.
What is surprising, especially given the fact that, as Margaret said, "every single review calls The Ugly Truth misogynistic," is Mike's character arc. I'm not sure if this makes me naïve or pessimistic, but I was expecting the movie to prove Mike right. I thought Abby was going to learn that if you hold out for red wine and cats, you'll end up with someone boring, whereas if you submit to a lifetime of objectification and dick-talk, you get to fuck (the admittedly hotter and more exciting) Mike. Instead, we find out that all of Mike's "ugly" talk, all of his preference for jello wrestling* over intelligent conversation, actually stems from being hurt by women. See, he's just scared of love, which is why he pretends to care only about lust. But when he meets the right woman — the opinionated, "control freak" Abby, not some non-threatening ingenue — he's willing to throw off his misogynistic armor and declare his love in a hot air balloon.
Mike's show "The Ugly Truth" claims to plumb the dark side of human nature (it really explores the dumb side), but the movie The Ugly Truth offers a ridiculously rosy view of humanity. Men objectify women because women hurt them, and true love — even with a woman who seems like she would be terrifying to a secretly vulnerable man — erases years of bitterness and hate. Marisa Meltzer identifies "Five Problems With Chick Flicks," including a reliance on "grand gestures" that would be creepy in real life, and an unrealistic preponderance of media jobs. But the most unrealistic thing about romantic comedies in general (and The Ugly Truth doesn't even make Entertainment Weekly's recent Hall of Shame) is their wishful view of how men — and women — operate.
Sure, the genre has a lot of misogynistic conventions — the woman waiting to be chosen by a man, the emphasis on romantic relationships as the center of woman's life, the chatty single friends, and a bucket of ice cream in front of the TV. But they're a little misandrist, too, presenting a world in which men are, at bottom, all-too-easily knowable. Guys who sleep around do it because they're afraid to love (see also Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, which yeah, I saw also), and once you get them to man up and commit to you, they — and you — will be happy forever.
Meltzer complains that "the most fraught and interesting part of long-term relationships come long after the first kiss, which is, unfortunately, usually when the credits start to roll in romantic comedies." Usually the argument goes that nobody wants to see an established relationship, because it's boring — and if it always played out the way romantic comedies promise it will, it would be boring. But the truth is that relationships involve people being bad and good to one another in ways that are unpredictable, and irreducible to simple "he-likes-jello-wrestling-because-he-fears-women" platitudes. If romantic comedies chose to chart these waters — as some dramas do — they might be a lot sexier and a lot funnier.
They'd also probably be less comforting. One reason to sit through a romantic comedy is its assurance that you, the (largely female) audience, will Be Okay — that all relationships work out, all people are easy to understand, and all true love is simple and long-lasting. Even though we know these things aren't true, it can be soothing to hear them. But it's not very hot.
* This movie did make me wonder if jello wrestling, which, when you use cherry jello, looks a lot like the birth of full-grown, bikini-clad twins, is actually erotic to anyone.