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Friday, Sept. 4, 2009
'The Ugly Truth'
Nothing pretty in this rom-com
By KAORI SHOJI
The rom-com, once a source of solace for the working woman who, after a hard day's work, could at least count on undemanding entertainment to tide her through the evening, has become something different. It's no longer the sweet and smart girlfriend equivalent, unjudgmental if a little cynical. That girlfriend (personified by say, Meg Ryan) has moved away and we're just now starting to realize how much we miss her. In her place are a succession of shrill, thin, expertly madeup babes obsessed with gym regimens and time management. What happened? As much as I hate to say it, part of the blame lies with the "Sex and the City" quartet. They inducted us into a world where women talked about blowjobs over muffins in broad daylight, could be blase about incontinence in broad daylight and, in short, could pretty much do anything they damned well felt like doing — in broad daylight. In "When Harry Met Sally," Meg Ryan as Sally panicked about the approach of the big four-oh when she was 32. In "Sex and the City," Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) was worried about what marriage may do to her booming sex life at 42. The whole rom-com package has become a little scary and perhaps even excessively pushy.
The latest rom-com to hit a theater near you is called "The Ugly Truth" and takes pushy to a whole new dimension. It's a tightly wound 96 minutes of sexual fracas with so much profanity that earned it an R-17 rating. There's a lot here that gives romance an ugly rep. At the center of the diorama (read: two-dimensional) is Katherine Heigl ("27 Dresses") as Abby, a lucky-at-her-career-unlucky-in- love TV producer and Gerard Butler ("P.S. I Love You") as Mike Chadway, the obnoxious, chauvinistic host of a cable show called "The Ugly Truth." Mike's job is to dispense relationship wisdom on the air as viewers phone in with their problems. An example of this wisdom: "I have only one word for you — Stairmaster!" He exhorts women to cram their torsos into high-tech pushup bras, to wear their hair loose and skirts short ("but not too short, because showing too much "vadge" means you're desperate"). In another century, the guy would have been burned at the stake. In this one, he gets great ratings and lives in a huge condo. Abby is forced to take him on her new show, because her sexually frustrated boss Georgia (Cheryl Hines) feels it's time to inject some new, "hot blood" — no matter how contaminated it may be.
The biggie obstacle here isn't the screamingly predictable story (set to a tune suffering from overuse of the f-word). It's the fact that it's mighty hard to like Abby or sympathize with her plight, which amounts to the same-old, same-old "I can't meet Mr. Right" dilemma. Abby, whose professional maxim is "there are no problems, only solutions!" keeps a checklist of what she wants in a man and ticks them off whenever a potential candidate comes along — three out of five is OK but a two is, like, forget him. When a gorgeous, single neurosurgeon (TK) moves into her apartment complex, she falls in love and Mike helps — mainly out of good intentions to help but more to prove he knows what men want. He piles on the dating advice (when eating a hot dog, do it "verrrrry slooowly"). On another occasion, he hands her a remote-control vibrator to help her get her groove back ("It's been awhile, am I right?") and when she — inexplicably — wears it to a meeting with studio heads in a restaurant, the remote control winds up in the hands of a 10-year-old boy.
Two-thirds of the way into the story and long after our patience has worn out like an old sock, Abby and Mike come to the conclusion that, hey!, they may be made for each other. A hundred other couples in 100 other rom-coms back last century did the same but with much more finesse (take Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline in "French Kiss"), and this is where we may as well face the sad truth — they just don't make 'em like they used to.