Kathryn Heigl is gorgeous. She’s a blonde bombshell in the tradition of Jean Harlow, a collection of curves, fiery lips and bundled blonde hair that looks as though she just slithered out of a 1950s film noir. She’s also smart, produces her own films and is out spoken about all the right causes. She should be the total package, but the trouble is, on screen, I find her cold. She emanates ice, and not in the classic Alfred Hitchcock cool blonde way. That coldness could work for her in some roles but it is a little hard to swallow in the rom coms she makes between seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.
Her new film, The Ugly Truth, feels like an updated Doris Day / Rock Hudson battle of the sexes; a look at how men and women perceive one another. Heigl is Abby Richter, the terminally single producer of a morning television show. In an effort to boost sagging ratings the station manager hires controversial correspondent Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler). “He is everything that is wrong with television and society,” says Abby. His proudly male chauvinist schtick about how women don’t understand what men want—he’s equal parts Dr. Ruth, Dr. Phil and Hugh Hefner—despite Abbey’s disdain, connects with her audience. They are, in the grand tradition of romantic comedies, oil and water, but despite their differences Abby turns to Mike for hints on how to connect with Colin (Eric Winter), the proverbial good looking doctor next door. Maybe, just maybe, though, love is closer than either of them think…
Movies like The Ugly Truth live or die based on the charm of their stars. Butler can pull off the charismatic rogue role but Heigl grates. It would have been interesting to see Reese Witherspoon or maybe a 1980s vintage Meg Ryan in the same role to judge whether their appeal could rescue this otherwise sad excuse for a rom com.
It’s not just that it is predictable. Originality isn’t a trademark of the genre, so the set up and pay off are expected before the opening credits roll. This one has a few more four letter words than usual but plays out pretty much how you might imagine.
So, if it isn’t the inevitable happy ever after story line that drags The Ugly Truth down, what is it? Well, how about the Three’s Company level dialogue? The lame jokes, writing style and battle of the sexes subject seem to harken back to a different time. Like when Jack, Janet and Crissy were still roommates and bell bottoms were considered cool at the disco. The jokes have been given a makeover but the underlying themes seem twenty years or more of date.
There are a few laughs sprinkled throughout however—the women in the audience I saw this with seemed to find some of Mike’s observations like “For men self improvement stops with toilet training,” hilarious—but if there were any fewer laughs this would simply be a romance, not a romantic comedy. Another scene involving vibrating underwear and a restaurant got some laughs but I thought it was funnier the first time I saw it in When Harry Met Sally.
The Ugly Truth is neither ugly—Heigl and Butler see to that—or truthful—the hackneyed take on relationships sees to that.