Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Ugly Truth about The Ugly Truth


I wish I had positive things to say about this movie. I wish that I had roared with laughter and that my heart soared in all the right places. I wish that Katherine Heigl had been give a part that did not reduce her to Cinderella dining on leftovers. I wish that Gerald Butler had been left to his Scottish Brogue. Or better yet, that he'd said, "No" when the script crossed his desk.

The film is based on a simple yet familiar premise: Smart, successful career woman has no man. Cable Guy (that should have been the giveaway right away on where this movie was headed) has been wounded by too many women and instead of dealing with it, has turned himself into a Guru of relationships. He's gonna Save men from heartache by schooling women on how to make themselves over to get and keep a man. Its a 90 minute extravaganza of teaching chicks how to think like a dick.

Cable Guy critiques Smart, Sexy Career Gal for having a list of traits she'd like in a man. OMG, what was she thinking!? Uh...maybe about her own likes and dislikes, what turns her on, what she would find hot? Go figure that she might have her own personality, peccadilloes and preferences. But her list is made irrelevant in the course of the movie (except for a minor nod at the end when it's just too late to save this sinking ship).

Her list is instead superseded by Cable Guy's list of what men want, as though this is a novel concept. Their relationship is really a competition and he challenges her to try and get a guy her way. Or his, guaranteeing its success. She doesn't believe it for a brief minute and then starts to see results. Svengali-esque hooks and baits are cast as Cable Guy makes over Smart, Sexy career gal into a dick magnet. All this means is that Cable Guy knows how to get the fish on the line. What to do after that, as he shows later in the film, he's clueless about.

Inevitably (this is Hollywood dream--or is it nightmare?--spinning after all), Cable Guy falls for his creation, in spite of himself. No, it's more than that. He's actually fallen for parts of who she really is because, as his Producer she has supported him in his rise from Cable to Prime Time. She's good at her job, really good at it and she does it with heart. It's hard for him to miss this, despite the layers of defensive armour he's sporting.
After a jump-on-each-other-in-the-elevator-as-the-doors-close kiss, Smart, Sexy Career gal returns to her hotel room to find the freshly caught fish/boyfriend flopping around on the bed. He's arrived on a surprise visit to "take their relationship to the next level", which in this movie's vacuous world means having sex. Everything is set, romantic dream style only she has Cable Guy's lips still lingering on hers. Cable Guy shows up at her door for a follow-up smacker but he's foiled by his own creation. He leaves and she follows him out into the hallway, asking him what just happened in the elevator. Here it is, here is Cable Guy's moment to get courageous, to slip out of the armour, and get vulnerable and real.

Does he do it? Does he have the balls? Sad to say, they shriveled as though they'd just been soaked in a tub of ice chilled Jello with no buxom wrestling babes to take the edge off. Svengali skulks off down the hallway, back to the safety of his defense bunker.

Smart, Sexy Career Gal, however, demonstrates that, just for a moment, she has enough balls for all of them. She returns to The Fish and asks him what he loves about her. He gives her the list--the one Cable Guy has outlined in his fishing course--she doesn't criticize him, she doesn't talk about her problems to him, she's not a control freak. She reaches for her hair extensions and removes them, telling him that in fact, she IS all those things that he doesn't want in a woman. And who could love that?

It is the only shiny moment in an otherwise dull offering of the worst kind of fast food. For just a second, she is herself. And The Fish can't rise to the challenge. He doesn't want her if she's not the match of his list. The tarnish that follows is her belief that if she is all these things that are not on the Guy List, she is is not worthy of love.

The rest of the movie focuses on the unresolved situation between Cable Guy and Smart Sexy Career Gal. It ends with him telling her (and this is the best declaration he can come up with) that he loves her even though she's a control freak. They hook up and the last scene has them having sex. He has his orgasm and she has hers--or does she? In the end, her only shred of personal power rests in whether or not the orgasm is real. He'll never know, she tells him. Aside from being the most unsatisfying closing I've seen in a great long while, it echoed the stultified roles of women in 1950's sitcoms--I could almost hear June saying the same to Ward in the Cleaver marital bed as The Beave and Wally snored down the hall.

The "I love you" scene brought to mind Mr. Darcy declaring to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice that he loves her, despite the lowness of her social station. He can't help himself, he's telling her; she's overcome his dick! The Ugly Truth was no different from the male point of view. Sadly, what was different was that Smart Sexy Career Gal didn't have the same amount of self-possession that Lizzy had. She did not tell Cable Guy to piss off and make him truly work to earn her affection. And frankly, he wouldn't have had the depth, courage or honour to do so. To get the girl, all the work he had to do was say, "I love you" and be the warm, pulsing body in bed. And that was enough.
Here is where this movie falls down (oh, what am I thinking--it never even got out of the gate!). And it is where we as a culture have fallen down. We have taken the potentially sumptuous, rich, sensual feast that is love and relationship and opted instead for a quick bang through the drive through, as though this is nourishing, tasty, or fulfilling enough for the human spirit. The Ugly Truth about this movie is not the list of what men really want from women or the Svengali makeover; it is that we are in 2009 and we have still not come a long way, baby.

Despite all the changes women have strived for through the last century, the dynamics of heterosexual love and pairing is still governed by a skewed, centuries old, male-dominant, dysfunctional, abusive dream that puts the onus on women to be what men want them to be, or else be alone. The overall message to women is if you want to be loved, you're still going to have to relinquish your personal power and cease to be who you truly are, because some Guy decrees it. Question is, who died and left him King?

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