Why The Ugly Truth is just plain ugly…

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I’ve seen a lot of bad films. I made a habit of watching them at one time to improve my tolerance level, then in California I found myself incredibly bored because classes were wicked easy and I couldn’t drive so I watched even more bad films.

Xanadu. Josie & the Pussycats (we only watched this to find out what Dean Martin’s grandson looked like. Not interesting enough to render the film tolerable). Twilight (ooh, controversial of me!). The Fast and the Furious (actually, anything involving Paul Walker that I’ve suffered through makes it onto this list). 40 Days and 40 Nights (which ‘features’ a woman raping a man and where Maggie Gyllenhaal is the second fiddle to Shannyn Sossamon). Fucking Glitter. Yes, I’m one of the 16 people worldwide who sat through that. You don’t know how bored a person has to be to make it. It became an emotional and mental test of stamina at one point, like Ahab versus Moby Dick, man.

I reached a point where I couldn’t bring myself to waste so much time on things that were solely bad. I never saw Gigli or The Hottie and the Nottie. and I hope never to be bored enough to consider them.

There are two kinds of bad films: the bad ones that have something redeemingly likeable about them (I’d put Xanadu in this category but I understand people who disagree), and the bad ones which are just unquestionably bad (Glitter. Seriously man, you don’t know, you weren’t there).

I’ve always had a liking for good romantic comedies. No, really. When a romantic comedy is really well done, it can change your world. Hepburn/Tracy, Rogers/Astaire, It Happened One Night and Some Like It Hot. Dude, these films are enough to make me consider the possibility that love is actually a good idea. And this is me, a creature with a lump of marble where a heart should be.

Just glancing at the list on Wikipedia I see a long list of mighty films which manage to be romantic, funny and get this – intelligent, kind and thoughtful! Oh my God, you weren’t expecting that, were you? No, because the genre has been kicked almost to death by cheaply made crap designed only to make money.

You know the stuff: it’s constantly marketed with horribly smug, over-photoshopped posters. The protagonists are almost always white, upper-middle-class tossers. Self-absorbed, whiny bastards you couldn’t empathise with in a month of Sundays and plots that seem to begin and end with their meet-cute. I didn’t think much of Serendipity but at least it screwed with the meet-cute idea.

The casts seem to be pretty much the same, too. Is Matthew McConaughey the king of the Shit Romcom or is it just me? The Wedding Planner, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Failure to Launch, The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. A list of films so bad that I’d rather watch him in Reign of Fire. Or induce a power cut. There are other men who seem to disgrace the romcom pool but none quite so consistently as Matt. OK, he and Hugh Grant are probably tied in this category.

The girl is pulled from a pool of interchangeably samey actresses, each of them ultimately white bread WASPy types. Now, I like Sandra Bullock but you’ve got to admit she’s the only thing standing between mediocrity and outright awfulness in many of her pictures. Every so often, the ‘new’ whoever turns up, hoping she’ll get to be Julia Roberts.

The latest is Katherine Heigl and she’s tied up in the reason I’m here right now. Now, given she gave an interview after Knocked Up (which was not especially clever or original but someone decided that it was so everyone else went along with it) saying that it was sexist. Fine, she’s entitled to her opinion, but might I respectfully demand she clamber down off that high horse? Why?

The Ugly Truth. Anyone and everyone involved in that film loses this argument. I mean it. If proof were ever needed that womanhood’s greatest enemy is and always has been other women, here you go. If proof were required that women seem to think men are solely dick-focused cardboard cut-outs, here you go. If proof were required that Hollywood is more sexist today than it was thirty (or even fifty) years ago, here you go.

Taken solely on its own, with no other context, The Ugly Truth is just a terrible movie. Taken as it is, part of a wider entertainment world, it’s fucking terrifying. Honestly. I’m not exaggerating.

I don’t know what to tell you, really. I’ve seen some good (OK, half-decent) reviews online and people on Facebook and such who seemed to like it but really, this is bottom-of-the-barrel, lowest common denominator stuff.

Taken on its own, The Ugly Truth’s characterisation of the lead woman would merely be one-dimensional and vaguely offensive. Taken as part of a growing trend, it’s fucking terrifying. Apparently, only shrews can be successful outside the kitchen and/or bedroom and/or nursery. Only control freak bitches get promoted and successful women are friendless, pathetic creatures outside their sphere of work.

The weird thing about The Ugly Truth is that Abby (the lead,  Heigl) is painted in part as a Mary-Sue. Within the first few scenes people are telling her she’s the ‘best there is’ and ‘nobody could’ve pulled that off!’ when in fact, most people given control of a TV show would cut to something else while one of the anchors freaks out.

Hell, in The Ugly Truth, even the second tier women are painted as pathetic, shrewish or desperate. Abby’s assistant actually says she lives vicariously on Abby’s love life, while the female anchor on the show is whiny and diva-like. Terrifyingly, The Ugly Truth was written by women.

I always thought Doris Day’s characters were whiny, hypocritical, naive, self-deluded, bossy and whatever else it is that annoys me about her. Ten minutes into The Ugly Truth I would’ve willingly watched The Glass Bottomed Boat or Please Don’t Eat The Daisies. Twenty minutes in, I was almost willing to take back everything I ever said about The Big DD. Almost. Certainly, it made the Hudson-Day movies look like a David Lean epic in comparison. In fact, I’m going to stop typing just long enough to put Pillow Talk in the DVD player.

No, still can’t stand her. I guess Doris is the girl our current shrews are ultimately based on. I’m not just talking about The Ugly Truth. The year’s biggest romcom features an even more successful and therefore even more detestable female lead. The Proposal had a few minor moments of humour but ultimately even Sandra Bullock can’t save it. She plays a woman who everyone hates while Ryan Reynolds plays a nice everyman type who everyone likes. Rinse and repeat that with drugs for Knocked Up. Same for How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days except she’s (half) kidding. It seems that the romcom has become a world in which guys are nice, laidback dudes and around them shrewish women are uptight, shrieking, selfish bitches who think they can’t find the right guy but in fact they’re the ones that are wrong. And almost every single one of these movie women has to conspire in some way to get their guy.

Sleepless in Seattle – Girl stalks guy. Guy knows nothing of this.
While You Were Sleeping – Girl lies to unconscious dude’s family about them being engaged. Guy knows nothing of this. (that she ends up with his much nicer brother is refreshing.)
Legally Blonde – Girl goes to Harvard to get guy back. (again, that she ends up doing something else is refreshing).
The Wedding Date – Girl pays guys to be date so she doesn’t look pathetic.
Sweet Home Alabama – Girl lies about everything, including her name.
Just Like Heaven – Girl cares so much about her work she doesn’t have a life until she dies.
Bride WarsTwo girls are so psyched OMG about getting married that they tear each other to shreds.
Two Weeks Notice – uptight girl works for immature tycoon. Becomes more uptight then gets drunk and falls in love with immature tycoon.
13 Going on 30 – little girl finds out she becomes an uptight backstabbing bitch who alienated her best friend so she can have the life she wants as a magazine editor, then realises she doesn’t want that life at all. She wants to start going out with someone when she’s 13 and stay with him in their little house. Forever.
No Reservations – Girl is bitchy chef. Guy is laidback chef. Child with dead mother is merely garnish.
Return to Me – Girl doesn’t bother telling guy she has his dead wife’s heart.
27 Dresses – Girl is uptight and has worn a lot of ugly shit. Decoy Guy is laidback outdoorsman. Second guy is laidback reporter type.
The Accidental Husband – Girl is snotty bitch radio guru who doesn’t believe in love. Guy is laidback fireman with side order of soccer.

I know I’m being a bit selective. I haven’t mentioned films like Must Love Dogs, which while incredibly predictable in some ways was incredibly honest and featured likeably ordinary people. Definitely, Maybe managed to be a little different. He’s Just Not That Into You was patchy (the Affleck/Aniston segment was particularly disappointing) but at least presented a few slightly different types of people. Still, Jennifer Connelly was particularly shrewish.

I haven’t mentioned 10 Things I Hate About You or Ever After, both of which were far, far better than I expected when I started watching them the first time. Both of these films, incidentally, feature interesting and intelligent female leads with backbone and heart. How is it that Cinderella has been portrayed more fully than a *insert career title here*? Or perhaps we’re supposed to think that women are only supposed to play at having careers while they wait to marry, like a girl plays with six different career Barbies.

You know, the shrew has her place. She’s been a character type for as long as there have been plays. She’s at least more interesting to me than a blandly perfect girly-girl. Hell, if there was ever an archetype I could empathise with, it’d be the shrew… but the fact is, not all women are shrews. Not all women are only shrews. If they were, women really would rule the world. We’d all be miserable because shrews aren’t that much fun to be around… but not all women are shrews. Not all women who have good jobs are shrews. Not all single women are shrews.

Come to that, not all single women sob into a pillow every night because they don’t have a man. Not all single women are incapable of having a relationship. Not all single women are dreaming of the Perfect Man, because if anyone knows he doesn’t exist, it’s probably a single woman.

While we’re at it, not all men are entirely shallow douchebags. To borrow a phrase from Craig Ferguson: I KNOW, RIGHT? They’re not all sitting on their arses on a sofa/in the park/in the pub. If they were, the world would be a very different place. More than that, it’s as insulting to men to reduce them to dribbling sex morons as it is to reduce women to uptight perfectionist bitches. Or are we to truly believe that the people behind some of the best art, literature and music were only thinking in terms of bedpost notches? Sure, a lot of them were thinking about their next shag, but not just that. We do men almost as great a disservice by portraying them as romcoms are at the moment – but at least their characters are likeable.

I’ve learned in my few years that any relationship that is unequal in some way is doomed to be unsuccessful. Men and women aren’t the same (shocker, right) and we shouldn’t treat each other as if we are, but we are equal. How’s that for an ugly truth? We are equal and our strengths and weaknesses should work with the other person’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s a happy ending, right there. Respect and equality. Maybe they’re difficult concepts to put across on a screen, but Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn managed it. Gable/Colbert managed it. Gable/Gardner managed it. Ledger/Stiles managed it. Even Crystal/Ryan managed it better, and I hate When Harry Met Sally (and if anyone is the mother of the insane, neurotic female romcom lead, it’s that soulless female).

We’ve come a long way since Tracy/Hepburn, but unfortunately we’re going downhill. It seems to me that when it comes to romcoms now, nobody wins.

Everyone involved in the making of The Ugly Truth lost a great deal of respect from me. Everyone. When I can sit here and say that The Ugly Truth is the worst thing Gerard Butler has ever been in, when I’ve seen Dracula 2000 and Attila, you know something is very, very wrong

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8 Responses to Why The Ugly Truth is just plain ugly…

  1. elseinane says:

    Return to Me I have to give a pass to if for only the reason of the bunch of widowers arguing over the best singer DEAD. And the liberal sprinkling of Deano throughout. 🙂

    • apollarock says:

      I quite liked it, but you’ll observe the reasons you listed there have NOTHING to do with the actual romcom element of the film?

      Carroll O’Connor and the other Old Dudes FOR THE WIN.

      • elseinane says:

        I actually would have liked a movie based on the Old Dudes… but just you and I would have gone to see it.

        And they still get a pass on the RomCom part of it because… how the FUCK do you ever say “I have your dead wife’s heart”. THAT is a new one for the books. 🙂

      • apollarock says:

        True. I just remember thinking that the twist would’ve been better if it turned out she DIDN’T have Joely’s heart…

        Just like in He’s Just Not That Into You, it would’ve been a better twist (and more interesting) for Jen to say “Actually Ben, I understand that you don’t agree with marriage. The fact that you’d propose to me means the world. So much so that, no, I won’t marry you, because I care about your opinions and thoughts and feelings as much as I do my own.”

  2. Word to this post, but especially to this:

    I’ve learned in my few years that any relationship that is unequal in some way is doomed to be unsuccessful. Men and women aren’t the same (shocker, right) and we shouldn’t treat each other as if we are, but we are equal. How’s that for an ugly truth? We are equal and our strengths and weaknesses should work with the other person’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s a happy ending, right there. Respect and equality.

    Apart from the bit about When Harry met Sally. I love that film!

    • apollarock says:

      😀

      Funnily enough, I’m sure that compared to The Ugly Truth (which is brilliantly acronymed to TUT) and The Proposal, I’d love WHMS if I saw it again.

      Its soundtrack is always full of win.

  3. sugarjet03 says:

    When I was ten, I really loved While You Were Sleeping. I still like it, conspiring aside, because Bullock’s character was actually working-class, which almost never happens in these things. Plus, like you said, it’s refreshing that she ends up with Bill Pullman’s character instead.

    I agree with you on everything else. I’ve also realized that since Jason and I got together, I’ve had far less patience for Romcoms- partially because the ones lately have been so shitty, and partially because of the lack of diversity/believability. It seems like they make the characters rich so they don’t have to worry about coming up with an actual plot, since anything can happen when you have money. It’s really sad.

    • apollarock says:

      I think the money thing has always been there. I assumed back in the day that old romcoms and musicals had rich characters so that they could explain away why they had such fab/glam costumes.

      I suppose the product placement deals are better with BMW than with Skoda, or better with Bulgari than cheapdiamonds.com (does this even exist?).

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