Since 2017, Midwest Film Journal has prided itself on delivering thoughtful commentary on current and classic cinema. No one piece has persisted as powerfully as our 2018 review of Den of Thieves, which we called an “unswervingly painful” waste of 140 minutes.
SEO tells us the piece’s popularity is thanks to its reference of one character’s inscrutable “Peckerwood” tattoo. Instinct tells us otherwise: People really love Gerard Butler.
Disfigured catacomb vocalist. Ripped Spartan warrior. Machine gun preacher. Secretly sweet lothario. Donut-housing cop. Dragon-slaying hero. HMS Devonshire crewman. Angry little leprechaun. Stalwart hunter killer. Geostorm-stopping scientist. Vengeful Egyptian god.
That’s but a small sampling of this Scottish export’s quarter-century run — whose body of work will be highlighted biweekly this month in a retrospective series.
We bring you …The Butler Did It.
Gerard Butler’s stint with romantic comedies in the mid-to-late 2000s resulted in The Ugly Truth, a basic cable mainstay that seems to be universally hated. This 2009 “sexy + sassy” romantic two-hander with Katherine Heigl is actually perfectly fine.
Butler plays local TV access call-in host Mike Chadway, whose chauvinistic attitudes toward relationships frustrates Abby (Heigl), the morning show producer forced to boost ratings by hiring him. He helps her dress up and act differently to get laid while she inadvertently breaks through his layers of misogynistic thinking and into his heart. Ba-da-bing. They fall in love. What more could you want?
Butler’s Chadway is a slightly chubby bachelor who lives with his sister, helping her raise her son by day while he rails against women on TV at night. “Women only want checklists,” he says, “Doctors, hot bodies, etc.” It’s the kind of shit you’d read on Reddit although Chadway’s not a “nice guy” archetype but instead the casual mix of “bad boy + bully” that tends to slide into the romcom leading-man mix more than the gainfully employed professional hottie with whom he takes issue. Chadway knows his misogynistic show is wrong, as evidenced by scenes with his nephew where he advocates the opposite viewpoints to him Ten years later and maybe Chadway becomes Big Nick from Den of Thieves: impotent, divorced, disgruntled. At the very least, one can imagine Big Nick watching Chadway’s show on a night off from chasing thieves who are addicted to heists and thinking, “Yeah, fuck those bitches.”
Abby’s character is similarly staid. She’s “uptight and professional,” traits melted by Chadway’s charm and the realization he’s only a misogynist because he had some “bad relationships in the past.” It isn’t worth lecturing the reader about why this doesn’t feel very honest or make Chadway more empathetic because this is a romantic comedy from 2009 that nobody really cares about. Heigl is likable; Butler shines. Butler always shines when he can be crabby. Here he’s crabby as shit. I don’t think Chadway’s a relatable character, but I sure love Butler’s slightly chubby cheeks smiling like a chipmunk who got all the nuts.
Recent studies have thrown social media into a loop because apparently millennials are having less sex, which might be because we can watch porn whenever we want and sit at home instead of going out and engaging with real people. I don’t know. Is that a Chadway hot take? In my experience and interactions with other people, I’m not entirely sure this is a totally accurate survey of millennials’ sexual lives and attitudes. I think a lot of the humor in The Ugly Truth was more shocking and forthright to audiences who didn’t grow up knowing what a buttplug is on a casual basis; audiences who didn’t grow up writing fan-fiction about their favorite characters boning and then sharing those stories with other hungry friends.
I do think the rise of porn and sitting at home alone has only helped create environments where young men can enter echo chambers that titillate them — be it porn or violent video games or oftentimes a mixture of the two — and never interact with other people in a meaningful way. They’re disincentivized. A character like Chadway already feels outdated, coming from the era of The Man Show where his type of behavior was shocking. In 2019, his show would be a deeply popular YouTube channel laced with right-wing factoids and interviews with Alex Jones. Think The Joe Rogen Experience. Think Milo Yiannopoulos because he got too annoying. Think Ben Shapiro, honestly. Chadway absolutely voted for Trump because of the Access Hollywood tape.
It’s not worth saying that problems with men treating women horribly are necessarily worse now, just that there’s a cottage industry that has far more reach and resolve than in 2009 when The Ugly Truth presents Chadway as an outsider brought in to “shake things up” at Abby’s network. Mostly, I thought of this while writing about The Ugly Truth because otherwise there isn’t much else to write about. Butler is chubby, charming and fun to watch as always, even as a risible son of a bitch given more of a redemptive story than he deserves. Such is life.
The Butler Did It continues every Monday and Thursday through April. Please check back for future installments.