It Ends With Hot Air: The Ugly Truth (2009)
By Kimber Benton & Mary "Stormer" Phillips · Dec 05, 2013
Kimber: We watched The Ugly Truth. It sounded like “sssssssssssssssss.” Like the flaccid dicks Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) keeps mentioning throughout.
Stormer: Men are like men because men, right? Also, the opposite for women, right?
Kimber: It makes sense that ‘woman’ has two syllables instead of just one because women overthink everything, right?
Stormer: It makes sense that the movie starts with Katy Perry’s “Hot n Cold” which is a song about a man acting like a woman because clearly the song is mostly about how women are, right?
Kimber: These tidbits of excellent wisdom are brought to you by Mike’s advice segments.
Stormer: Plus. what he says in his segments coincidentally directly applies to exactly every little thing about Abby Richter’s (Katherine Heigl) personality. Like, she can’t take a complement!
Kimber: She lives by business-speak proverbs that she doesn’t really follow in her own life!
Stormer: She’s got an assistant named “Joy” (Bree Turner) who is unduly concerned about Abby’s love life, because Abby keeps breaking dates!
Kimber: She’s amazing at feeding the misplaced egos of the on-air talent that work on her newscast!
Stormer: Her boss Stuart (Nick Searcy) assumes she doesn’t know anything about Vidal Sassoon, ‘cause she’s not that kind of woman!
Kimber: She’s got a fucking whistle that she uses to silence her employees!
Stormer: She’s kind of an asshole because she thinks her date Jim (Kevin Connolly) is too short! We learn all of these things in the first, like, six minutes of the movie.
Kimber: Yuh huh. Economic character development!
Stormer: I like that the message is that Abby is simultaneously too mannish in her appearance and too womanish in her personal life. Stop overthinking things, woman! But also, stop not dressing sexy enough, man!
Kimber: It’s one of those great introductions that shows our female lead being super-competent at her job, but only so that it’s okay when it turns out she’s a fuck up in every other way. Like when she tells Jim that bottled and tap water are the same thing, and then follows that up by revealing she did a background check on him, and then follows that up by distributing a list of talking points for the date, and then follows that up with the statement, “you have nine out of ten of the necessary attributes on my checklist.” Dating is not like math, woman! Except when it totally is, because Mike will just basically tell you it’s a different math, later on.
Stormer: That’s the real message of The Ugly Truth: the calculus you think you understand is not actual calculus. Surprise!
Kimber: Can you explain to me how the writers of 10 Things I Hate About You, Legally Blonde, She’s the Man, and The House Bunny also produced this and One for the Money?
Stormer: I’m really hoping that the answer has to be that making the jump from movies meant for teens and college kids to a movie meant for adults meant more studio intervention? ‘Cause otherwise? I dunno.
Kimber: Even Ella Enchanted was more rewarding. And that movie was literally just an attempt to capitalize on Anne Hathaway’s preexisting Princess Diaries audience.
Stormer: Right. Like, I get that the whole Great at Work/Poor at Love thing is a trope for movie characters, but: how is it possible that she reads her crackpot anchors—Georgia Bordeney (Cheryl Hines) and Larry Williams (John Michael Higgins)—so well but doesn’t see that Jim has completely tuned out of their date five seconds in? It makes no sense. This version of that character isn’t consistent at all.
Kimber: Also: of course she has a cat. Who of course is named “D’Artagnan.” But also also: she has this beautifully appointed apartment, and while this isn’t solely an issue with this movie, I’m kind of tired of protagonists who are supposed to be workaholics in decent-but-not-luxury-paying jobs who still have homes that look like showrooms for Restoration Hardware.
Stormer: My favorite part is when Stuart cracks a joke that their morning show got beat in the ratings by everything on at the same time including a rerun of Who’s the Boss. It’s funny because any single episode of Who’s the Boss was funnier than this shit.
Kimber: So the story is that Abby and Mike will eventually fall in love, obviously. Abby is the producer of a durable but low-rated Sacramento morning show. Stuart decides to bring in Mike to do his “The Ugly Truth” segment to boost ratings. Mike is introduced when Abby’s cat steps on her remote and changes the channel to his local cable show, which results in one of the few actually funny things in the movie that involves Abby or Mike as Mike lists off a litany of ludicrous names for fake relationship advice books.
Stormer: Of course, the hilarity of that bit is immediately undercut as Mike leers at the camera that the way women can get men is a “StairMaster” and some “trashy lingerie” because “at the end of the day, all we’re interested in is looks.” And then sums his spiel up: “blowjob.”
Kimber: So of course Abby calls into his show, and starts listing off the qualities of a man “capable of love,” which are presumably her ten necessary attributes, and they’re all juvenile shit like “handsome but doesn’t know it” and “likes red wine and classical music.” It’s what Twihard fans think of Edward. It’s gross.
Stormer: My favorite part is when Mike decides Abby must be ugly because she’s fantasizing about “Mr. Wonderful” and Abby meekly responds, sad-faced, “I’m not ugly.” Let me reiterate: Katherine Heigl is supposed to be unsure of her looks.
Kimber: I don’t want to pile on the whole Heigl thing, though of course it’s weird that she made valid points about the sexism of Knocked Up before embarking on a career of movies like this one that are fundamentally worse. But the bigger issue is more simple: Mike spends this entire sequence calling her “a dog” in a story where we already know they’ll end up together at the end, but…why would we ever root for this to happen?
Stormer: Mike is supposed to be based on Adam Corolla, right? He’s so admirable!
Kimber: So of course when Mike shows up the next day because Stuart has hired him his teeth have already been removed. He’s still antagonistic, but he’s no longer needlessly belligerent and dismissive. I guess we’re supposed to assume that’s because his on-air persona is at least somewhat of an act, but still: the real reason it happens is because movie logic.
Stormer: Movie logic is the best. No character development; he’s just nicer in person.
Kimber: And though he’s still brusque, he manages to fix Georgia and Larry’s shitty marriage in his first on air appearance, making him a lock for the show. Much to Abby’s dismay, who ends up lying in the fetal position on the floor of her closet. Because despite how competent she’s been shown to be at her job, this she can’t deal with.
Stormer: We should say, I guess, that a lot of the incidental moments that feature Georgia, Larry, and Dori Coleman (Yvette Nicole Brown), are actually pretty funny.
Kimber: Yeah. The moments that revolve around those characters are deliciously ludicrous conversations that don’t matter in the context of the film, though, so they’re more like distracting mini-skits. Most of them have an aura of being improvised, where it’s just funny actors being funny in brief moments where the main plot isn’t happening.
Stormer: Of course, that main plot keeps rearing it’s ugly head.
Kimber: Yup. Because then we have to find out more to temper Mike, which is that he lives on the same property as his single-mother sister Elizabeth (Bonnie Somerville) and her 14-year-old son, who he plainly tells not to follow the advice on his show because that advice is only meant for 25-year-old women who “think they’re hot.”
Stormer: He’s a good uncle, and his sister loves him. Which means despite his bluster, he as a good heart.
Kimber: A strong back.
Stormer: An embraceable soul.
Kimber: Which is important, because as it turns out the plot of this movie is just a modified version of the plot of Cyrano de Bergerac. Stuck with Mike on her show, Abby eventually seeks out his help to woo Colin Anderson (Eric Winter), the hot orthopedic surgeon who lives in her apartment complex, but as you might imagine it turns out that Abby and Mike are actually perfect for each other, even if Mike doesn’t fit Abby’s checklist of her ten necessary attributes, because: life and love can’t be planned that way, right?
Stormer: She first sees Colin when she has to climb up a tree to rescue her cat and he comes out of his shower in a towel. So of course she falls out of the tree when he catches her looking, but ends up hanging with her shirt falling down and uncovering her underwear.
Kimber: My favorite part is that Colin of course fits all of Abby’s ten necessary attributes, except he keeps dropping them in weird ways in conversation. Like, “dogs are great, but I’m a cat person.” Truly the mark of a suitable mate. Plus he can totally fix her sprained ankle.
Stormer: My favorite part is that Abby smiles like a fucking clown when he says that. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but it lands more around “creepy and uncomfortable to watch.” And then she leaves his apartment, forgetting her cat.
Kimber: So of course he opens the door to find her doing a little dance of joy.
Stormer: Of course. This movie is mostly of course’s, btdubs.
Kimber: Like, of course Abby gives in and steers into Mike’s skid for ratings.
Stormer: And of course she feels “dirty” about it.
Kimber: And of course she treats him like he’s a moron.
Stormer: My favorite part—and this is actually pretty funny—is that whenever Abby talks about Colin to Mike a classical violin starts playing on the soundtrack.
Kimber: I feel like there’s a version of this movie where we’re supposed to just laugh at how ludicrous Abby and Mike are being. There’s hints like that all over. At the same time, that doesn’t really work because the characterization of both of them is so all over the place that it takes forever to decide whether a scene is supposed to be satiric or not.
Stormer: Right. There’s a version of “Abby” who is just a parody of female characters like her in more earnest, sincere films. And there’s a version of “Mike” that is just an acknowledgement that the Howard Sterns and Adam Corollas of the world don’t actually exist like their on air personae all the time. Except…shitty, sexist, misogynist men are apparent every damn day in any number of formats, so even if the message is just that Mike is trying to make a living exploiting the impulses and behaviors of those men even as he isn’t truly that awful himself, I’m not really sure that makes him any more admirable.
Kimber: Well, plus Mike keeps shitting on women’s self help books even as most of the shit he says sounds like the screenwriters read He’s Just Not that into You.
Stormer: It’s the makeover scene (of course) that is the worst, though, because the makeover scene is just basically Abby now wearing dresses instead of office attire. So: cool. Now she’s hot I guess.
Kimber: I also think the problem is that while it’s clear throughout the film the Mike is helping Abby loosen up, Abby doesn’t really help Mike change; he just sort of changes independently of her. I mean, I guess you could make the argument that he’s changing as he falls for her, but what we see of his segments are suddenly far less belligerent, which is when he starts getting more national exposure.
Stormer: And then Mike buys Abby a pair of vibrating underwear. The remote for which features “Warm-up,” “Paradise,” “Rapture,” and “Ecstasy” settings.
Kimber: It’s always pleasant to watch a story where the entirety of a woman’s sexual liberation is husbanded by a douchey man.
Stormer: What is the exact difference between “Rapture” and “Ecstasy,” Kim?
Kimber: It should have been more literal. “Anti-Frigid.”
Stormer: “Makes You Forget Your Ten Necessary Attributes.”
Kimber: “Just Like Mike Said, Librarian and Stripper At the Same Time.”
Stormer: “Sexually Liberated, In Movie Terms.”
Kimber: I smell a tie-in! But so of course she wears them to a dinner with corporate, and a kid gets hold of the remote, and she orgasms through dinner.
Stormer: Ugh, this movie goes on forever. But we know Abby and Colin are not meant to be when Abby doesn’t like the way he makes caviar on crackers? Or deviled eggs? It looks like the former going in and the latter when she spits it out. But so I guess he’s not perfect is the message we’re supposed to take?
Kimber: Yes. Truly, trouble in paradise. But so basically Mike gets invited to Craig Ferguson’s show, Abby accompanies him, and they get a little too intimate, and duh. Except Mike’s also getting job offers from non-local Sacramento jobs, which upsets Abby because he betrayed her somehow I guess, and then—
Stormer: It ends with hot air.
Kimber: The balloons are just a bonus, right? Because it ends with hot air balloons. Because Abby says men are full of hot air. Because I think the film is trying to suggest that Abby and Mike were both wrong and right, even though that’s not really made clear.
Stormer: Other examples of hot air: Mike’s confusion when Abby says “cock” even though she’s been swearing like a sailor throughout the film.
Kimber: Abby’s “sophisticated” language, which mostly consists of using actual words correctly.
Stormer: “Flick your bean.”
Kimber: “You’re gonna wanna fertilize that patch of petunias.”
Stormer: “Craig Ferguson is his audition” for “a CBS affiliate in San Francisco at twice the pay.”
Kimber: “Lake Tahoe.”
Stormer: The fact that Abby ends up on camera at the hot air balloon thing and says a bunch of stuff at the camera that is all about how she feels about Mike’s “betrayal.”
Kimber: So Mike shows up and they argue and end up making out in a flying hot air balloon. This conversation, again, seems to suggest that the point is that both are right and wrong, but mostly it consists of Mike calling Abby a psycho.
Kimber: It’s a movie where the character development is just air leaking out of hole.
Stormer: Yeah. Absolutely deflated. Flaccid.
Kimber: Mike sure is a good uncle, though. That’s got to count for something, right?
Stormer: That’s not a calculus I’m familiar with, Kim.