The Other Woman
dir. Nick Cassavetes
Release Date: Apr 25, 14
The Other Woman is about the wrong character. This becomes clear within the film’s first 15 minutes, by which time Kate (Leslie Mann) has already collapsed into a panic attack, stammered her way through an attempt to infiltrate an office building by faking blindness, and managed to capture the suffering long glances of a woman watching her husband drift farther and farther away from her, all in the midst of an otherwise spotty-at-best, offensive-at-worst romantic comedy. Mann is so good as a wife lost in a fog of grief, anger, and alcohol that you wish the film were to follow her instead. But such a tweak would lead to a dramedy more than the broad, whimsical comedy Nick Cassavetes offers up, and so Mann’s dog must take a shit in a prim New York apartment before long.
For its first hour, The Other Woman is an agreeable enough battle of the sexes film that’s agreeably enough centered more on the women victimized by an insufferably smug playboy than on him as a heroic figure. When Carly (Cameron Diaz), the film’s true protagonist, meets Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) by chance, she’s swept off her feet, her natural skepticism toward romance cast aside in a whirlwind of passion. One night, after a fight, Carly goes to surprise Mark at his house in Connecticut, only to instead meet Kate, Mark’s wife who believed him to be bogged down with endless work-related business trips. And that’s not all; Mark has been enjoying the company of the buxom Amber (Kate Upton) as well, on top of more unknown women in other parts of the globe. And he may or may not be embezzling money from his company.
Mark is a monster, and also an interesting comment on the overentitled alpha male to a point, but he’s also such a caricature that the trio’s eventual plans to emasculate him and ruin his life make less for a light comedy than a gauntlet of cruelties after a while. That nastiness extends to the film at large after a while. In the early going, Carly’s inability to emotionally connect with the purely emotional Kate makes for some big (if predictable) laughs, Mann and Diaz playing well off one another as the perfect odd couple brought together under duress. Even though the film is no less boilerplate in its approaches to female bonding and friendship, there’s at least a nice dynamic between Mann’s fragility and Diaz’s practiced distance from everybody. The minute Upton shows up to become the brunt of the two womens’ judgments at every turn, though, The Other Woman becomes a different movie, and a nastier one.
Early on, the film’s protagonists are enjoyable enough company, even if outside of Mann pretty much every character in the film is less a relatable person than a checked-off list of easily recognizable traits. Once the film becomes centered more on revenge than on spurned women finding comfort in one another, the threesome are forced to engage in sociopathy that in its way is no less base than Mark’s compulsive infidelity. Gags involving hair loss, explosive diarrhea, estrogen leading to impotence (complete with a couple unnecessary transgender jokes) are staged, all set to grating musical cues that encourage “you go, girl!” reactions while totally missing the point of how unpleasant these people really are.
That’s the thing: nobody in The Other Woman is particularly empathetic by the end. Mann fares the best, but Upton is given little more development beyond a sexy punching bag for the film’s other leads, and Diaz overdoes the steely gazes after about 20 minutes in. The film tries its best to give her a love interest in the form of Kate’s hunky brother (Taylor Kinney), but leaves you reluctant to root for their success after a while. And by the film’s grand finale, where Mark is given the receiving end of this film’s version of a Wayne’s World ending right up to him skulking off covered in blood, it’s hard to want good things for any of these people. Unless The Other Woman was conceived as a Clockwork Orange-style exercise in the manipulation of audience empathy, it misses the mark entirely.