Things I Learned From Movie X: The Ugly Truth
By Edwin Davies
February 15, 2012
Like death, taxes and the great taste of Charleston Chew, there are some things in the Universe which are inevitable and unavoidable. These things exist and, for good or bad, we must live with them. Incidentally, Charleston Chew falls on the “good” side of that equation. Then there are things which are avoidable, but seem completely inescapable because no one bothers to get out of the way, but instead stand there like a rabbit caught in headlights. The career of Katherine Heigl is a clear and terrifying example of the latter. Pretty much everyone smarter than a tire knows that she appears almost exclusively in terrible movies – assumingly because she hasn’t got an agent and gets work by picking up discarded scripts that Julia Roberts and Amy Adams leave on park benches – and the stories about her behavior towards the people she works with have confirmed that she has pretty much eclipsed Jimmy Carter as history’s greatest monster. Yet whenever she has a film out, people are actually willing to pay money to see it, almost as if the sheer dark horror of her draws them in like quicksand. Shrill, angular quicksand. Audiences seem to think that they have to watch them, and studios seem to think they have to keep commissioning them, when all anyone has to do to break this cycle of attrition is to just look away.
There is no more clear an example of this than The Ugly Truth, a ghastly cultural artefact from 2009 which future generations will view in much the same way that we view the actions of Genghis Khan: a mixture of awe and revulsion. By combining Heigl’s sheer awfulness with a bitter, misogynistic script and Gerard Butler at his most repellent, Robert Luketic and his team created a film that purported to be about the non-traditionally beautiful truth about men and women, which apparently is that we’re all assholes. Bracing though its nihilism may be, The Ugly Truth was meant to be a frothy romantic comedy, not a Neil LaBute play, and anyone with eyes and ears should have known that it was a wretched piece of bilious tripe. Yet it somehow managed to take $88.9 million in the United States alone. Truly, we as a culture are the rabbits, and Katherine is the blaring headlights that signal our demise even as we cannot turn away to save ourselves.
Still, if the old idiom that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it contains any truth whatsoever, then surely we must be able to take something away from The Ugly Truth other than a profound sense of disgust and self-loathing. At least I hope so, otherwise I’ve just wasted 90-something minutes of my life that I could have better used by staring into space for no discernible reason.
They’re just like Tracy and Hepburn, except they swear and are awful
The unique hook of The Ugly Truth – other than selling suicide as a viable life choice better than the theme to M*A*S*H* ever could, even though that admittedly hurt the takings of the film by reducing the possibility of repeat viewings – was that it purported to be a frank examination of the differences between men and women, as opposed to every other romantic comedy, most of which have actually claimed to that, some of them to great effect. (I’m looking at you, When Harry Met Sally. Not so fast, What Women Want.) “But, no, you see it’s different,” say the defenders of the film who I have just had to invent because they don’t fucking exist, “because they say cock and fuck and pussy. It’s real mature.”