Abby knows what she wants from a guy. All the ingredients for the perfect one are right there on her spreadsheet: He must be a doctor. Must drink red wine. Must read F. Scott Fitzgerald. Must like cats.
This attractive, award-winning television producer can afford to be picky. And frankly, she can’t operate any other way. She runs background checks on potential suitors. She provides them with a list of “talking points” before the salads arrive. If men were cars, she’d want the 8-cylinder, leather-trimmed Jaguar—in British racing green. If they were insurance policies, she’d want the comprehensive package with a low, low deductible. If they were a kitchen towel, she’d want the ShamWow.
Alas, perfect men are rarely found through infomercials.
She knows they’re not to be found at work. She knows her doctor-reader-drinker-cat-lover guy is not Mike—that jerk her station just hired to spout inane, offensive commentary during its low-rated morning show. If Mike were a car, he’d be an El Camino. If Mike were an insurance policy, he’d be loaded with frightening collision clauses. If Mike were a kitchen towel, he’d be that ratty thing the dog uses as a pull toy.
But when Abby suddenly finds Colin, her perfect man, living right next door to her, she realizes her whole seduction-by-spreadsheet approach might not work. In desperation, she turns to Mike for help. Mike immediately goes all My Fair Lady, transforming regular Abby into sultry, sexy, compliant Abby—complete with blond hair extensions, curve-hugging evening wear and instructions to laugh at everything Colin says.
We see people floss. And that can’t be bad, right?
Somewhere, deep down, I think this movie’s creators wanted to tell moviegoers that there is such a thing as love (despite Mike’s insistence that there isn’t). And they wanted to convince us that it encompasses more than what can be stuffed in a spreadsheet.
They don’t, really, but I think they wanted to.
Mike does serve as a father figure for his 14-year-old nephew and, despite all his faults, takes the role seriously. He takes it so seriously, in fact, that he turns down a fabulous gig in San Francisco so he can stay near the boy.
Mike crosses himself while listening to a handful of phone messages.
The Ugly Truth isn’t so much a romcom as it is a crass, sexualized comedy that sprinkles a dash of romance in there so it won’t come off as too cynical (which would make it a “cromcom”). Tawdry scenes, situations and wordplay coat this film from open to close.
Example 1) Abby and Mike have a painfully long conversation about masturbation—its merits, how often they do it, etc. Their talk culminates with Mike giving Abby a pair of panties that are designed to “stimulate” the wearer. Through a small chain of unlikely events, Abby winds up wearing said skivvies to a business dinner, but drops the accompanying remote control, which is in turn picked up by a young boy. Clueless as to what the device is for, he starts pushing buttons. The result is an amped-up When Harry Met Sally orgasm scene in a crowded restaurant.
Example 2) When Mike is first hired, he confronts, on air, the morning show’s two anchors, who are married to one another and having intimacy issues. Mike analyzes their bedroom behavior in front of the television audience, filling the conversation with references to erections, organs and acts.
Examples 3-467) We see Colin’s bare backside and Abby’s exposed underwear. Mike wallows in a pool of Jell-O with two bikini-clad women. Later, when Abby surmises Mike slept with them, he says he only slept with the “one who could read.” Abby is shown, in a fantasy sequence, as a naked weather girl, with certain sensitive parts of her anatomy shielded by weather icons (clouds, smiley sun faces, etc.). Mike listens to a series of near-pornographic phone messages. Abby’s friend, Joy, makes a lewd sexual gesture. A visual gag involves manual stimulation. Mike suggests Abby wear clothes that showcase her breasts. Two people make out in an elevator doorway. Two others are heard having sex. (Afterwards they discuss whether she was faking her orgasm.) Characters make scads of crude references to critical body parts and how they’d like to have those body parts manipulated. Someone brags that he’s slept with “137 women—most of them conscious.” Chimpanzees mate. And there are some glancing references to homosexuality and effeminate behavior.
Example 468) Mike’s whole on-camera shtick amounts to a belittling of love and affection. Mike believes folks would be better off if they spent their time chasing after lust, repeating this mantra several times in different ways. He argues that broken hearts take far longer to heal than a momentary bout of sexual frustration.
Abby nearly falls out of a tree when she tries to retrieve her cat. The cat breaks a fishbowl—presumably killing the innocent goldfish inside.
Just over a half-dozen f-words and a dozen s-words. Obscene references are made to sexual organs. God’s name is misused around 25 times; a few times it’s paired with “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused twice.
Characters quaff wine, drink beer, guzzle champagne and sip mixed drinks. An anchor drinks straight from a wine bottle while on the set.
Mike tells his audience that men are driven by lust and are “incapable of growth, change or progress.” They don’t want real women, he says, but rather compliant sex dolls—and women should change their dating strategies accordingly.
We learn that Mike was once arrested for urinating on a moving vehicle.
Mike tells Abby that men want, in their partners, a paradox: “The saint and the sinner … the librarian and the stripper.” Maybe the creators of The Ugly Truth wanted a movie that fit that bill too. But despite a neatly bundled conclusion and occasional near-sweet musings, The Ugly Truth thinks the ugliness it’s selling is the truth.
At its narrative heart, it fears that many men are indeed superficial morons, and that women, in order to woo such men, should change parts of themselves to meet their expectations.
[Spoiler Warning] Abby eventually finds that turning herself into that saint/sinner-librarian/stripper hybrid doesn’t get the job done. She discovers that it’s actually Mike who loves her for who she really is. But the problem is that it’s Mike who loves her for who she really is.
And Mike’s a cad.
No wonder this movie plays out as little more than one of his misanthropic diatribes. Like the men Mike talks about, it pretends to care. But it’s really just a cynical and shallow creature, willing to misuse the narrative and its likable protagonists in order to reach a series of crass, climactic punch lines.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.