Joining the boys’ club
Well, it’s Friday, which means it’s time for the release of another piece of shit comedy in the theaters. This week’s offering is The Ugly Truth, yet another in the “can an uptight prude and a lovably boorish macho man find love?” genre, a genre that simply will not die no matter how many stakes film critics and denigrators such as myself try to drive into its heart. As of this writing it’s rating a 13% at Rotten Tomatoes, which puts it in such esteemed company as Catwoman, The Pink Panther 2 and Britney Spears’ “acting” debut Crossroads. The gimmick in The Ugly Truth is that, despite being marketed as a date movie, it’s rated R, which of course means lots of f-bombs and endless dick jokes, presumably because that’s what it takes to get men to agree to see it with their partners. Another gimmick is that, despite it’s undeniably misogynistic message, it was written by women, three of them, to be exact.
Let me take a moment here for a brief aside. I know I’m not the first person to make this observation, so I’ll merely reiterate it: the more screenwriters attached to a movie, the less watchable the movie will be. Two seems to be about the limit, three or more will likely have you clawing at your own face in despair. Case in point: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which had three credited writers, plus the invisible, evil hand of Michael Bay. Other cases in point: Charlie’s Angels (three), Bride Wars (four), The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (four), Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (four) and the remake of The Shaggy Dog (an incredible five). Mind you, these are just the writers who were credited for the final screenplay, often there are additional ghostwriters brought in to polish dialogue and other weak spots in the plot, which, in the case of the movies mentioned above, are usually the entire plots themselves. It’s startling to realize that initially most of these scripts were likely deemed unfilmable in their original draft, and it was the job of the extra writers to somehow make them better. That’s right, it took five writers to render The Shaggy Dog barely fit for human eyes.
But I digress, slightly. It’s only a slight digression because it reiterates that there is just no reason why a movie with a plot as simple and derivative as The Ugly Truth needed three writers. It can be easily written by one person, on a soiled cocktail napkin. It would probably read “GUY & GIRL MEET, PRETEND TO HATE EACH OTHER, FALL IN LOVE AT THE END.” Add some other important notations like “MAKEOVER SCENE?” and “DON’T FORGET GENERIC POP SONG ON SOUNDTRACK!!!” A flamboyant gay best friend is not a requirement, but certainly should be considered. Cast a blandly attractive actress who at some point in her career has been described as “the next Julia Roberts” and, congratulations, you have a romantic comedy (for the record, The Ugly Truth boasts two generic pop songs on its soundtrack, Katy Perry’s ‘Hot ‘n’ Cold’ and Natasha Bedingfield’s ‘Pocketful of Sunshine’). However, despite its almost defiantly unoriginal plot, the makers of The Ugly Truth want you to know that it’s no ordinary raunchy rom-com, because it was written by chicks. According to this article in Variety, pretty much every up and coming screenwriter is emulating Judd Apatow these days, and that includes female writers, though it’s a tough field to compete in, as you really have to put an unusual spin on your gay panic jokes and endless pop culture references to stand out. Now, I’m not saying that I dislike the films of Judd Apatow. The 40 Year-Old Virgin is probably one of the funniest recent movies I’ve seen, but that’s pretty much the extent of my exposure to his work. Superbad and Knocked Up have been sitting low on my Netflix queue for nearly two years now; given how slow I am to watch movies in my queue I figure I’ll get to them around 2014 or so. I have no doubt that, inasmuch as gross-out dudebro comedies are concerned, his are pretty funny. It’s the imitators, those who try going for the “more offensive” approach as opposed to “funnier” that bother me.
The Variety article interviews one of the writers of The Ugly Truth, Karen McCullah Lutz, who looked at the opportunity to write an R-rated script not as one where she could make a funny, mature film for adults, but where she could prove that she’s as capable of being as crass as the boys.
“When they told us to make it R, the heavens opened and the angels sang,” Lutz says. “We always pitch our dirty jokes to each other knowing we can’t use them. Suddenly, it was like, ‘Oh my God! We can write like we actually talk!’ “
It seems to me that if all Lutz wanted to do was write a bunch of dirty jokes, she should be writing for the Friars Club roasts, rather than trying to make movies. The whole “It was written by girls! See, we girls like bathroom humor too!” thing is obviously pandering to a male audience, or at least, those who won’t normally see movies written by women, but also seems to be an easy way to deflect criticism. Other women shouldn’t be offended that the plot of The Ugly Truth hinges on that stale old stereotype of “Men are shallow, superficial cretins who will never change, so it’s up to women to make ourselves over into what they want in order to find love,” because women wrote it. Sure, most of the laughs seem to come at the expense of humiliating star Katherine Heigl’s character, such as by having her simulate fellatio on a hot dog or wear vibrating panties at a restaurant, in some vague quest to loosen up and become the type of woman men want to fuck date, but it’s supposed to get a pass because it’s other women who are putting her through the wringer.
Though I realize it’s a polarizing book with feminists, I have to fall back on Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs and say I’m not entirely impressed with women who believe themselves to be making bold feminist moves by emulating the worst aspects of men, such as going to strip clubs and bashing other women for being uptight. You see, it’s empowering to think and act like a man, even if you’re only imitating the gross, piggy parts. But it actually isn’t, it’s mostly dishonest, because in most cases women who pull the whole “I may look like a woman, but I’m like a man on the inside” shit are in it to attract men, under the impression that, really, men just want to date themselves. Two of the writers of The Ugly Truth, the aforementioned Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, also wrote the surprise hit The House Bunny, a film with a core message that says “Forget all that book learning and learn to embrace your inner Playboy model.” While Neil LaBute and Joe Eszterhas are still miles ahead of them, it would appear that Lutz and Smith actually kind of hate women, and I don’t know if that’s more depressing, or the idea that they’re cashing in on pretending that they do.
On that note, I’ll be taking this coming Monday off, because it are my birthday. You want to give me a present? Don’t go see The Ugly Truth.