Aug 11, 2009

Review Post 40: The Ugly Truth / Orphan / Informers

DIR: Robert Luketic
CAST: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Bree Turner,

A series of open letters on the subject of The Ugly Truth.

Dear Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kristen Smith,
Put down the pens, for the love of god.  There is so much so very wrong with your screenplay for The Ugly Truth that it is difficult to know where to begin, but I think I’ll start where you should have started: character.

Character is everything in romantic comedy, because more than in almost any other type of movie we have to be able to care about the people we’re watching, to perhaps fall a little bit in love with them, and to care that they fall in love with one another.  It’s not an easy thing to do but, Karen and Kristen, please stop trying. I know they say ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.’  The thing is you did succeed at first; 10 Things I Hate About You is a legitimately charming romantic comedy, but since then it’s just been a bit embarrassing.  Legally Blonde has its strengths, as does The House Bunny (though none of them, in that case, are anything to do with you), but in neither case is the romance one of them.  That's because the man is a complete nothing - a handsome cipher who barely has a trait, let alone a personality.  I have to hand it to you; you’ve outdone yourselves here.  Not content with creating one totally vacant character you’ve created a whole film full of them.  The two sides of your ‘hilariously’ mismatched couple each have just one characteristic; she’s anal, he’s boorish, and you spin that out for 96 minutes.

The fact that Mike (Butler) and Abby (Heigl) are nothings isn’t even the big problem.  The problem is that I hate them both. Of course you can make your protagonists unsympathetic, you did it quite well in 10 Things I Hate About You, but even if other characters in the movie hate them, I shouldn’t. Mike is the kind of guy I’d go out of my way to avoid; he clearly dislikes and fears women on all but a sexual level, and yet your script seems to preach his misogynistic line of crap.  Abby’s just as bad; an exaggeratedly anal and neurotic harridan, she’s unpleasant to pretty much everyone pretty much all the time, and seems to be a shallow moron along with it.  Why in the name of all things holy am I supposed to give even half a shit about these two despicable people hooking up or not?

By the way Nicole, don’t think I’ve forgotten you, or am letting you off because this is your first produced screenplay.  You’ve clearly been re-written by these two inexplicably popular rentahacks, but this fundamentally broken and diseased idea has come from you in the first place, and the horrible, world-hating tone is inherent to that idea.  It also beggars belief that between the three of you, you failed to come up with a single laugh in the space of 96 minutes.  I can make someone laugh by accident in that amount of time, and I’m not writing romantic comedies.  This isn’t to say that you haven’t tried.  Well, perhaps ‘tried’ is too strong a term, you appear to have watched a few great rom-coms and transcribed key scenes, then gone through the painstaking process of deleting every single funny moment or line.  Look, I like Roxanne too, but that doesn’t mean I want to see TWO scenes from it replicated without the laughs.  Oh, by the way, closing a rom-com with a scene that basically endorses the idea of building a relationship on a foundation of lies.  Not the best idea you’ve ever had.
In conclusion, I’ll turn to the words of a man far smarter and greater than me: “Kids, you tired and you failed, the lesson is; never try.” (Homer J. Simpson)

Dear Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler,
Katherine, you thought Knocked Up was sexist?  In that case I’d like to know one thing, exactly what hallucinogenic and mood altering drugs were you taking the night you read The Ugly Truth?  Okay, so your character is an outwardly powerful and successful woman; the producer of a local morning news show.  She’s also useless.  All her ideas are terrible, her ratings are falling and her assistant (Turner) seems to do most of her work for her.  Add to that the fact that in her personal life she’s a complete social retard; superficial and entirely insensitive to anyone else’s thoughts (hang on, does she have Aspergers?) Frankly it's an embarrassing and retrograde portrait of a modern woman.

Then there’s the matter of the way Abby follows boorish ‘relationship guru’ Mike’s advice in order to get her neighbour (a handsome doctor played by Eric Winter).  Dress sluttier; flirt outrageously; laugh at everything he says, whether or not it’s funny; if you don’t have an orgasm, fake it; never complain; always defer to him; basically do anything except be yourself. I’m not sure what’s more offensive, the fact the film is seen to give this advice or that it seems to work.  Honestly, how can you fail to find this sexist at best and misogynistic at worst?  Okay, it’s not as if the film only hates women, it hates everyone, but that’s not an excuse.

Quite apart from having a part that’s stupid and retrograde and offensive Katherine, you’re pretty damn terrible in it.  You’re pretty, that’s nice for you, but you’ve got the comic timing of smashed metronome.  Witness the scene at a restaurant where you have an orgasm because, through some ‘clever’ comic manoeuvrings, a 12 year old ends up with the remote control for your vibrating panties. Meg Ryan did a version of this in When Harry Met Sally, and because Ryan is a strong comic actress that scene is still funny 20 years later.  The thing is she sells it because she’s subtle, and because there’s a shape to what she does: she slowly builds up, comes to a crescendo, then stops dead and returns to her meal.  You, on the other hand, flail around, shouting and giggling for minutes on end.  In the cinema there was a deathly hush, the audience should have been roaring, but you could have heard a pin drop.

Julia Stiles is by no means a great actress, but Katherine, in 10 Things I Hate About You she managed to make us care about an unsympathetic character.  She did it by suggesting, even before we found out the story, that there was something behind why her character was like that.  With you it’s all surface, so much so that I wonder if you put more time into working on your character or choosing her shade of lipgloss.  I’m not supposed to hate Abby, and it’s your job to make her come to life for me.

Gerard.  First things first, mate.  You aren’t on stage, it’s a film, you have a microphone and the cinema has a big surround sound system, so please stop shouting.  Secondly, where is Mike from?  Sometimes you’re Scottish and sometimes you’re affecting a decidedly ropey non-specifically American accent.  Pick one and stick with it.
I’ll give you this; you are entirely convincing as a complete tool.  Mike is genuinely hateful and you put across his stupid ideas with force and conviction.  The problem comes when Mike has to change because, apparently, he’s in love with Abby.  Now, to be fair, the script isn’t helping you, given that your big line when Abby asks Mike why he’s in love with her is “Beats the shit out of me, but I am.”  The problem is that your only contribution to Mike’s supposed change of heart is to look mildly puzzled.  This really doesn’t cut it.  You ought to be able, throughout the film, to show us that Mike is gradually coming to care for Abby, but we don’t get any sense of movement at all from you, he’s still the exact same guy at the end.  It’s not so much that you’re doing anything wrong as it is that you’re barely doing anything at all.

Dear Robert Luketic,
The Ugly Truth is your fifth feature film.  You’ve had some practice now, and you’ve been doing this for eight years.  So why the hell do your films still look so very dull and generic? Honestly now, how much of your footage of LA exteriors is stock footage?  This film looks for all the world like a sitcom with ideas above its station.  I understand that stars want to look beautiful, and that audiences want to see them beautiful, but that doesn’t mean that everything has to be flat and evenly lit.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t spend time looking for an interesting angle, rather than plonking the camera in the most obvious place you can think of. It doesn’t mean you can’t edit in any way other than ‘over, over, two shot’.  I know you’re making a genre film, but really, that doesn’t mean it has to be a personality free monstrosity.
I know you’re not especially used to working with effects, and frankly I’m pleased that someone in Hollywood isn’t, but really, couldn’t you have called someone to supervise the bluescreen work for your closing sequence?  It’s supposed to be this touching moment when the couple finally gets together and even though the script scuppers that, you aren’t helping.  I should be getting wrapped up in the moment, instead all I was thinking was ‘did someone travel back to 1986 to bluescreen this set into the sky?’  It’s embarrassing Rob, seriously, a film student with a mac could do that shot for you.
P.S. I know the script is stealing liberally from other, better, films, but do you really have to call such attention to it with your direction?  Surely there’s a way to stage the scene of Mike giving Abby advice through an earpiece at the end of her date that’s just a little less reminiscent of Roxanne.  Was it just too much work to think up your own shots?

Dear Lakeshore Entertainment and Relativity Media,
$38 million?!  38 million dollars.  For this?  Where did all the money go, because this looks like it could have been shot for a quarter of that budget.  Why are you giving these people money at all?  And why, specifically, are you giving them money for this - a film that tells women that if they want to get Mr Right they have to stop being themselves and become a reductive male fantasy?  It isn’t like there aren’t talented people out there trying to get films made, you could have made 15 small movies for that $38 million.  Sure, not all of them would have been good, but some would, and I’d bet they’d all have been better than The Ugly Truth. Here’s the real ugly truth for you: you give these people money because it’s easy, there’s cash to be made, and you simply don’t have to give a shit what your film says or whether it’s any good.

Dear Bree Turner,
Thanks.  I’m sorry I hated your movie so violently, because I liked you a great deal.  I wish I’d seen a movie about your character, Joy.  In the small doses that we see her you manage to give us a more rounded portrait of her than any other actor manages with their character; harried, rushed off her feet, insecure.  I liked Joy and I’d have enjoyed a film about her trying to find love.  I’m looking forward to seeing you in more films, you’re beautiful and, if you can make any section of a movie this awful watchable, you must also be pretty talented. Thanks again.

Yours truly
Sam Inglis

DIR: Gregor Jordan
CAST: Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder,
Mickey Rourke, Jon Foster, Amber Heard

Usually I like writing about shitty movies.  Those reviews are fun to write and I think they’re fun to read, because there’s so much to say about a truly terrible movie.  Um, except in this case. The Informers, which has sat on the shelf for a very long time (Brad Renfro, who died in January 2008, is in it) is, make no mistake, quite spectacularly terrible, but there’s nothing really to say beyond that, because it’s not terrible in any interesting way.

There are no wacky moments of miscalculated and easily mocked insanity.  No one line stands out as especially inane or hilarious.  No one performance is especially wooden, or bonkers enough to be entertaining.  It’s just astoundingly fucking boring. It’s a series of vaguely linked narratives taking place in LA in 1983, but none is explored in enough depth to become interesting, and none is ever anything but staggeringly predictable.

It looks like every other film that has ever been set in LA (seriously, how many fucking films do I have to see with that patented tilt up from a car to passing palm trees?)  The only possible compensation for this monumental waste of time and money is that when the credits say ‘Amber Heard’ what they really mean is ‘Amber Heard’s breasts’, but frankly even that’s not enough to make The Informers worth your time.

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