• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Non-Review Review: The Ugly Truth

Who says sexism is dead? To look at the bulk of the romantic comedy genre, you wouldn’t know it. The subtext of any given mainstream big budget romantic comedy is that guys are stupid and unaware dinosaurs, while women are just the tiniest bit uptight and are neurotic in a mild and endearing manner. The Ugly Truth probably isn’t the worst offender – I felt much worse coming out of 27 Dresses, to be honest – but it is the most recent one I’ve seen.

It's a familiar dance...

The release of The Ugly Truth prompted The Guardian to write what was effectively an obituary for the traditional romantic comedy. It somehow managed to make me, a man, perhaps fully understand the awesome power of sexist stereotyping and to make me feel like I was somehow the victim of some ridiculous discrimination. Yes, it’s tough being a guy when there are romantic comedies out there like The Ugly Truth. In fairness, it’s an equal opportunities offender, so we’ll take our time going through it.

It starts with the basic premise that men are sexist misogynistic dinosaurs. Not some men – all men. You may think you’re cultured, but you’re not – you’re probably thinking of sleeping with two aspiring actress you had wrestling in a tub of jell-o even as you read this, aren’t you? Powerful women either turn us on (because we wish to conquer them) or emasculate us (because they are better than us). However, the women of the world need not fret, the only reason that us guys are like that is because some “doozie” of an ex-girlfriend screwed us around. So, ladies, get out your shovel (and slut yourself up), because if you dig deep enough, you can change us. And isn’t that what really matters?

Hey, women, don’t think you’re getting away that easy! C’mere a minute! You will actually enjoy being objectified by these cretins. C’mon… secretly you do. When your husband puts you in your place for daring to earn more money than him, you go weak at the knees. When the sexist self-help guru hits on you, you do a pathetic little dance. You need to learn to loosen up a bit. Maybe swear. Yeah, swear. The world needs more women swearing.

The Ugly Truth really wants to be an edgy romantic comedy. It throws around harsh language and the male lead is introduced using the phrase “blow job” on national television. Cue hilarious reaction from audience as sexual references are thrown around. There’s vibrating underwear! And a kid has the remote! There’s the female lead caught rubbing her date’s crotch on the big screen at the baseball game. And so on. This very clearly isn’t the romantic comedy as you know it, right? It’s more grown up, surely. That’s the whole point of having the female lead talk about “big balls” during the opening credit sequence, right? This is a movie which believes that it can tackle sexual politics in a realistic manner… by boiling them down to stereotypes. To quote an infinitely superior example of the genre, “it’s faster”.

On the other hand, the female lead believes in love and checklists and romance and stuff. She uses the word “eff-fing” instead of swearing. She thinks that men are actually more complex than her leading man would have us think. Not that that would be an accomplishment, but still… She believes that you can lure in and tame any man. In otherwords, she represents the traditional and – to be honest – somewhat stale values of the classic romantic comedy, while he is radical and out-there and politically incorrect.

Guess who turns out to have the right idea in the end? Go on.

The movie is formulaic to a ‘t’, but that isn’t it’s biggest problem. Nor is the irritation that is Katherine Hiegl nor the fact that Gerard Butler seems ridiculously tame even if he’s meant to be ‘out there’. It isn’t the lack of jokes – which you would imagine to be essential – either. Instead, the movie seems undeniably weaker for somehow being ashamed of itself.

The very concept – the crassness of the male lead who doesn’t believe in love but instead believes in sex – seems to be constructed around the notion that a traditional romantic comedy simply isn’t good enough, of itself. If that’s the case, then why does the rest of the movie fit the mould so ridiculously well? Is this a cynical attempt to trick men into watching the film by giving them something you believe they can relate to? I hope not, because then you’d seriously misunderstand men. We don’t like to be called misogynists. Well, most of us. Is it an attempt to demonstrate to the audience for romantic comedies that you are with the times? I don’t believe that either, because I don’t think that audience responds to monkey sex or jell-o wrestling.

Maybe the movie is designed to reinforce shallow stereotypes about men. And yes, I’m kidding here – but only slightly. Replace gender with any other divide – religious, social or racial – and see if this movie could get made. If you suggested the sort of things you do regarding the male of species about any other minority (because we are, technically, a minority), there would be hell to pay. There would be campaigns. There would be rallies and marches. But some joking guys will laugh off the notion alongside their female companions with self-deprecating charm, uttering “we are sooooo like that”. It’s ultimately harmless, I suppose, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less wrong.

My grandfather once told me to take the song Stand By Your Man and change the gender used in the lyrics to refer to a woman. He then pointed out that if that song were ever allowed on the air, there would be bloody murder.

In fairness, the ditzy and neurotic female lead is certainly no less a sexist portrait of the stereotype of women. Incredibly beautiful, yet incredibly single. She must have some flaw to make her identifiable to those in the audience who seek to live vicariously through her (I don’t know if any actually do, but I assume this is the logic behind the characterisation): so let’s make her a control freak and neurotic. But, don’t worry, it’s still better than the slut that her dinosaur of male lead would turn her into. That he can change her into some sort of distorted male chauvinist fantasy is inherently incorrect, and yet her attempts to change him into a more socially-acceptable mate are far more acceptable.

If you want an edgy romantic comedy, try Up In The Air or (500) Days of Summer. There’s less crude sexuallity (what there is of it is more maturely explored) and less swearing, but these do not an edgy film make. In the stead of these superficial elements, those movies offer exploration and something resembling honesty. There are certainly debates, for example, as to whether Summer herself is a skewed and slightly sexist character, but she’s far more multi-dimensional than anything found here.

But then again, I’m a man. I probably spent the movie subconsciously imagining Katherine Hiegl wrestling in some cherry jell-o.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: