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Nothing pretty about The Ugly Truth
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Nothing pretty about The Ugly Truth

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Ugly Truth
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It is great when a romantic comedy comes along that breaks the mold, one that is smart, insightful and unafraid to part with convention while managing to not paint a 100-percent rosy picture of relationships, and refuses to treat women as if they were guy-obsessed Barbie dolls. It brings a smile to my face to think of how it reinvigorates the genre, how the bond between the acting, writing and direction is so smooth the result borders on the divine.

That movie is (500) Days of Summer, a film released last weekend that has a legitimate shot to end up being one of 2009's best. Unfortunately, this review has nothing to do with that glorious little winner (although forgive me for taking the time to give it an additional plug) and instead focuses on the R-rated Katherine Heigl/Gerard Butler romantic comedy The Ugly Truth.

To say the former is better than the latter is like saying that French cuisine is more satisfying than eating a lukewarm McDonald's cheeseburger. You just can't place them side by side, and while I normally wouldn't bother, when one gets released immediately after the other it's kind of impossible not to let the comparisons fly.

The ugly truth of The Ugly Truth is that it is, yet again, another in a long line of recent Hollywood romantic comedies that for some reason hates women. Just this year we've had the misfortune of enduring dreck like Bride Wars and Confessions of a Shopaholic, and while I was one of the few that was marginally okay with He's Just Not that Into You, I'd be lying if I said it made any observations about the feminine condition worth a darn.

These movies are obsessed with a backwards barefoot-in-the-kitchen-let's-all-go-shopping-and-a-woman-just-isn't-complete-without-a-man mentality that's a bit distasteful. What's worse, for the most part, young female viewers seem to be lapping them up as if they're gospel. It's a post-Sex in the City thought process that puts material and matrimonial gains above all else, forgetting in the process those four ladies just happened to all be highly intelligent and successful and - up until 2007's rather dimwitted movie - didn't feel the need to hide those traits in order to potentially find love.

This movie is more of the same. It follows button-down Sacramento morning news television producer Abby Richter (Heigl) as she tries to reign in her new charge, the vulgar and uncouth relationship expert Mike Chadway (Butler), who was plucked out of cable access obscurity by her boss. Much to everyone's surprise, his addition to the show proves to be a rating bonanza, and even though she finds his methods distasteful, Abby is compelled to enlist Mike's services to help her bag a boyfriend for herself.

Not much surprising happens after that, and while I can't say sitting in the theater watching it was anything close to painful (unlike, say, Maid of Honor or Failure to Launch), other than a few slight laughs here and there, it wasn't exactly a joy, either. The film, reuniting the creative team behind Legally Blonde (director Robert Luketic and writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, the trio joined this time by first-time screenwriter Nicole Eastman), is about as original as a Disney pop song, the whole thing chugging along with the enthusiastic momentum of a barefoot amble to the corner grocery store to by a package of bologna.

Worse than that, though, is what it says about men and women and about what they need to do to find love. Straight or Gay, this film basically says you have to femme it up to a bubblegum extreme or go into butch masochistic overload in order to bag a mate. You don't need intelligence when you can get blonde hair extensions and wear a nice push-up bra, and good manners are nothing when compared to the erotic lure of a hairy Neanderthal wearing a dirty T-shirt smelling of beer and last night's bratwurst.

To be fair, I should probably point out I've given Heigl a pass previously for 27 Dresses, a movie that isn't all that far removed from this one. I should also say Butler is not without his manly charms, as both he and his costar share a pleasingly effortless chemistry that's wholly acceptable.

The problem is all they end up doing is hint at the building blocks of a better effort far removed from this one. But then that's The Ugly Truth, an intolerably backward movie that wouldn't know a fresh idea if it slapped it right in the face. It is the type of romantic comedy I'm getting sick of, and if it wasn't for iridescent revelations like (500) Days of Summer, I'd be tempted to write the genre off for good.

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