The first is The Ugly Truth, which stars Katherine Heigl as a successful and smart television producer who - you guessed it - has no luck in love. What she does have, however, is the help of a sexist shock jock, (Gerard Butler) who can teach her everything she needs to know about how to get a man.
No one’s going to be surprised when these two fall in love, right? After all, one of the payoffs of romantic comedies is seeing an unlikely couple fall for each other. The problem is that The Ugly Truth wants to invoke gender issues just long enough to abandon them for a less complicated fantasy. And what an interesting choice for Heigl: her character here is not that dissimilar from her character in Knocked Up, which Heigl openly criticized as being as being sexist. So what makes the difference? (Heigl also starred in 27 Dresses earlier this year, a fim that imagined feminist empowerment as having the ability to chase down the man of your dreams.) In The Ugly Truth, Heigl’s not an ugly feminist, just an uptight one - and it gets in the way of her happiness. The promise of the film is that all she needs to do is let down her hair, exchange her politics for a little more sex appeal, and transform herself into the right kind of woman to land a man who can make her really happy. Maddeningly predictable.
The second trailer for He’s Just Not That Into You hit the Web last week, too.
Frankly, I was prepared to be not that into this movie simply because it’s based on a really problematic self-help book. Yet, in comparison to The Ugly Truth, there are a few promising notes here, namely the film’s consideration of the way that women and men are influenced by social conditioning, rather than driven by some kind of essential qualities. That’s not particularly revolutionary, and it’s a good bet that the film will end up doing what most rom-coms do: provide a romantic fantasy that ends up reinforcing to women that they’re inadequate without a man. Still, it’s something to see a film that might derive its laughs by examining why women and men feel and behave the way they do, rather than reducing them to banal stereotypes.
Romantic comedy is a thorny genre because it’s become the de facto type of film that studios produce for female audiences. It’s a transparently heteronormative formula that reinforces the myth that marriage and romantic love are the keys to true happiness for women. Yet, it’s an incredibly popular - and powerful - formula that drives women to the box office. That fact that He’s Just Not That Into You might actually be an improvement for the genre reveals a pretty ugly truth, alright: we’re a long way from seeing a truly better brand of romantic comedy.
Why can’t we get a few rom-coms that don’t try to make women feel crappy about themselves?