Reading the reviews of The Ugly Truth today in the New York papers and then going on Rotten Tomatoes to see it's abysmal fifteen percent on the fresh-o-meter has compelled me to write this piece, which could very well be the final nail in my own career's coffin.
Manohla Dargis reviewed the film in today's New York Times. While I don't know Ms. Dargis, I do admire her work and taste and she has been kind to some of my films when other reviewers missed the point. Today she slammedThe Ugly Truth and while I haven't seen it, I wrote many drafts of it years ago and imagine she has good cause.
When it comes to reviews the screenwriters are never heard from. They can't be -- we are never allowed to utter a syllable of displeasure or self-defense or, "you will never work in this town again."
But the truth is, like Peter Finch in Network, back in the days when talented people were actually allowed to make witty, smart films even if there were no merchandising or sequels attached: I'm mad as hell and can't take it anymore.
Ms. Dargis starts out her piece with the sad but true referral to the final nail in the romantic comedy coffin. Though I don't agree with her assessment as to why they are dead, she is right about their passing.
She sights the pill as a possible cause? When Harry Met Sally came long after the pill. She sights swinging couples (they have actually made funny romantic films about swinging couples). And A Fish Called Wanda , Working Girl, Pretty Woman, anything by Richard Curtis, many things by Woody Allen all came after swinging couples.
And yes, all those films at their core are romantic comedies. It's just they actually have stories and character arcs and real life moments that are brought to life by credible characters who are given things to do and funny lines to say; all of it framed by the boy meets girl set up or at least the boy ends up with a girl ending.
They are not one endless stream of gags and fart jokes and drunken men on rampages where all woman are either annoying, stupid or hookers. They are stories where woman have a little power and personality and drive, and men sometimes have to wake up, but they eventually appreciate them for it. They meet in the middle somewhere -- each the better for it -- not at the bottom of the swamp.
She then sights the Iraqi war as a possible cause. The genre has been on the decline since the war started, but I don't see how you connect those dots in any way. George W did a lot of damage but he did not destroy the romantic comedy.
Hollywood did it all on its own; in it's "eat your young policy," which often times ends up being "eat the middle aged" and that has gotten worse the last five years. It has to do with the total lack of intelligence, conviction, sophistication and the fact that most people in Hollywood who make decisions don't know who wrote The Apartment.
And the fact that pandering to the lowest common denominator, mainly those sophisticated, trend-setter eighteen-year-old boys, have become the sole goal of the few studios still standing. Oh, and five-year-olds: their vote counts too. If it can come with a happy meal, you can at least get a one step deal.
Why am I mad as hell? I have been a comedy writer, according to the WGA for seventy-seven quarters. Translation: close to 18 years, without stopping. That is enough to entitle me to a lifetime of health insurance and a nice pension.
I made my living and wracked up those points writing romantic comedies. Some got made, most didn't; they all got destroyed. Why does The Ugly Truth finally bring me to window to yell and not care if I'm ever hired again? Because I can't sit by and watch writers get slammed time and time again, when, trust me, it never -- unless they directed the film themselves -- has anything to do with the writer.
When I read Ms. Dargis and all the other critics who sight Nicole Eastman, and Lutz and Smith as being unfunny or not able to deliver or "peddle shamelessly," all I can do is yell: I'm mad as hell and I can't take it anymore
Nicole Eastman's script for The Ugly Truth was one of the funniest things I have ever read. And I don't say that often. It was sent to me to rewrite "a little" and punch up. At the time I didn't really see what needed punching up, which is often the case, and whatever work it might have needed, the girl, Eastman, clearly had the chops to do it on her own with a little direction.
But those were back in the days when six figures for two months of work was part of my life and I knew I could futz around with it, give it a little more structure here and there while retaining her story and characters and the integrity of her humor -- which was anything but cliched or banal. Because, it was hilarious. It was hilarious when I started and quite frankly it was hilarious when I finished. It was smart and funny and should have been left alone and shot five years ago when it's concept was still fresh.
But no, god forbid they don't hire more writers and fiddle and fuss and have bands of twenty-year-olds who were answering phones yesterday, yet are all of a sudden experts on story today, give their two cents and then some more fiddling and writer hiring and lame ass note giving by people who have to justify their job titles until the thing is so pulverized it has nothing to do with anything and ends up with horrible reviews and writers getting slammed and careers ending long before they should.
Writers don't ruin movies: executives and weak producers who won't stand up to them do and that is the real ugly truth. There are many more good writers than executives out there, only they have zero power. The other truth is writing is a talent, and you don't get to the point where you get big jobs if you don't have at least some.
Being a studio executive requires zero raw talent. It requires political skills and a lot of being the right assistant to the right person at the right time.
I have known more idiot executives than I have idiot-anything else in my entire life. There is no other business in the world where the idiots run the asylum the way they do in Hollywood.
And now what do we have to show for it? Some of the most unwatchable movies in the history of film? We are left with a business where the same fifty people regurgitate the same material over and over again.
In fairness, there are some really smart, nice executives out there. Some of them still have jobs, though often times they get canned, as they don't drink the Kool Aid fast enough.
I've been attacked in the press for my scripts, accused of not being able to tell a joke or a story, and I want to yell: you're blaming the wrong person, start with X on the lot and work your way to the director who often times ends up buckling too. Go back and read draft sixteen and tell me it couldn't have been shot and wouldn't have been a better film. And I'm not defending my version of The Ugly Truth, as none of it remains.
My intent is not to blow my horn, but to blow the group horn, as most writers are afraid to say boo or they "won't work in this town again." Another real ugly truth is most aren't working and many like myself don't want to work much anymore. So let the truth be told.
Grown ups don't like taking orders from those young enough to be their children nor those who know less about story, structure and funny than the pool boy.
So when Ms. Dargis ends her piece with "Eventually, though she succumbs to his coarse ways, even adopting his crude language, because, well, that's what the public wants. Isn't that right, Ms. Pascal?" -- she is pointing her finger in the right place and finally speaking the real ugly truth.