In The Other Woman, we meet attorney Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz), a powerhouse career gal who can never invest in relationships – that is until she meets her perfect match in Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). However, when Carly tries to surprise Mark with a kinky late-night visit, she’s the one who instead gets a surprise: Mark has a wife named Kate (Leslie Mann).
At first the meeting is incredibly awkward and horrifying, but plucky Kate can’t help but admire the other woman in her husband’s life, and the two quickly become “the weirdest friends, ever.” Once united, the ladies set their sights on payback against Mark; but as the dig deeper they find more lies and more mistresses – like the voluptuous Amber (Kate Upton) – hiding in the wings. Determined to bring down the man who has been stringing them along, Carly, Kate and Amber scheme to pull off a takedown for the ages – if their girl power can just withstand a bad boy’s charm long enough.
On the surface, The Other Woman seems like a traditional rom-com movie with a girl power slant – and in a lot of ways it attempts to be. However, thanks to director Nick Cassavetes and a great comedic performance from Leslie Mann (with some welcome aid from her co-stars) the movie actually manages to be more memorable and entertaining than it is on paper, despite a script that doesn’t hold up as a feminist parable.
Cassavetes – in addition to his many acting roles – is known for an eclectic blend of movies – many of which achieve some kind of cult status (The Notebook, John Q, Alpha Dog). The Other Woman is his most comedic effort to date, but Cassavetes definitely has the mind and eye for good comedy, staging a variety of scenes that use everything from wordplay to physical comedy and even montages in order to create a consistent air of hilarity. Because it’s Cassavetes (who is not afraid to push into some explicit or even gory areas) there is an edge that is deftly wielded to create moments of raunchy or adult humor which actually cut the funny bone deep, while still managing to teeter on the safe side of a PG-13 rating. The look of the film – and the creation of its NYC socialite world – is all lavish and colorful and well-staged. In other words, the movie is easy to watch.
The more problematic end of the film is undoubtedly the script from first-timer Melissa Stack – the latest writer plucked from Hollywood’s “Black List” of the best screenplays yet to be produced (she was on there in 2007 for a script called I Want to F— Your Sister, just so you have some reference). The dialogue and comedy are sharp, and conceptually the story is a nice twist on the idea of the wife vs. mistress drama cliché; however, narratively and thematically, the movie tries to make a point it cannot earn.
This is a movie which attempts to posit that three lovely, capable women being united in infatuation over one man is somehow a story of empowerment. It’s an admirable claim, but one that could easily be challenged – if not outright defeated – based on the events of the film, the characters’ thin, archetypal personalities and their questionable actions. Much like Amber, The Other Woman is nice to look at and is fun to be around – but it doesn’t have all that much going on in the smarts department. It’s never a good sign when one of your characters can reduce the situation to being an event where “The lawyer, the wife and the boobs,” all get together for one purpose.
Equally true is the observation that if you were to take Leslie Mann out of this film, its fun quotient would drop exponentially. Mann has been on a tear of comedic roles (The Change-Up, This Is 40) but this may be her best work yet. She steals nearly every scene she’s in and goes for comedic broke, and her character probably has the best arc of the film, displaying moments (if only sporadic) of vulnerability and serious adult complexity, in order to balance out her zany goofiness. Cameron Diaz brings that Bad Teacher edge to her icy career gal, and serves as a surprisingly good straight woman to Mann’s wacky character. The two leading ladies are actually great together, displaying chemistry, timing and commitment that make the Kate/Carly storyline genuinely fun and interesting to watch.
Although men are the focal point of the story at every turn (irony), the boys in the cast are not major players in the film. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau basically phones in his Jaime Lannister Game of Thrones swagger, creating the sort of ‘bad boy you love to hate’ that is necessary for this story. Chicago Fire star Taylor Kinney has to play Phil, the hunky cool brother to Mann’s Kate, and provides the necessary smoldering hunky stares (though, as pointed out by Kate, the love story between Phil and Carly is weird in the context of this story). Meanwhile, Don Johnson shows up two steal a scene or two as Carly’s lovable louse of a father.
The biggest casting talking point is how pop-culture sensations Kate Upton and Nicki Minaj do in their first major screen roles. Upton’s part is tailored to make the best of her limited range (lots of simple sight gags, very little dialogue or heavy emoting); meanwhile, Minaj plays a fitting-but-typical sassy girlfriend role, and really needs to work on enunciating her lines (at times it’s like trying to read a ventriloquist’s lips). Having the pair of them in the cast is somewhat distracting, and The Other Woman is already bogged down with secondary characters and storylines, so it’s good that Upton and Minaj’s screen time is limited. Little doses go a long way in their case.
In the end, The Other Woman is a semi-successful femme comedy showcase hampered by its own rom-com conventions, which undercut any real intelligent or insightful thematic messages, feminist or otherwise. Still, the Leslie Mann comedy showcase is alone worth watching, and her and Diaz manage to make a frenemy love story that’s nearly as worthwhile. It’s not at all mandatory theater viewing, but as far as date night goes, both guys and gals will find themselves in pretty good hands with this one.
The Other Woman is now in theaters. It is 109 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, sexual references and language.
Follow me and talk movies @ppnkof