20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Carly (Cameron Diaz) is a successful corporate lawyer who may have finally found “the one.” After eight weeks of dating she’s putting all of her eggs in Mark’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) kind, romantic and handsome basket, but a surprise visit to his home reveals a disturbing surprise. There’s a woman in a bathrobe there. Worse, it’s Mark’s wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). The two become unlikely friends, and when they discover a third woman (Kate Upton) who’s been spending time in Mark’s pants the three join forces to teach him a lesson about hell, fury and scorned women.

Unfortunately, it’s an embarrassing lesson for almost everyone involved.

The Other Woman will be perceived by some as empowering towards the fairer sex in its message of women sticking together against a common enemy, but anything more than a cursory glance at the film reveals that to be a load of wishful b.s. Paper-thin characters, a simplistic script and sloppy attempts at physical comedy weigh the already weak film down, and instead it’s Mann who single-handedly struggles to keep the film afloat with her humorous and heartfelt performance.

Nick Cassavetes‘ film is aimed squarely at a female audience, but if the Bechdel test is your jam then it’s worth noting that this film fails. It has three female leads, but the closest it comes to allowing them to have conversations unrelated to men is when two of them reference dog shit. (But as someone pointed out to me earlier, the dog in question is a male.) Even if you don’t agree with the test’s value you’d be hard-pressed to defend the film as positive for women.

Melissa Stack‘s script sets the characters up as one-note women whose eventual team-up is meant to be an inspiring example of female friendship, but it’s surface-level and unconvincing at best and disingenuous at worst. Alone they’re stereotypes, together they’re a montage of hair-braiding and clothes-swapping. They’re also written as fickle, reactionary and often excessively dumb. Amber’s (Upton) idiocy is played for laughs, but we’re meant to think both Carly and Kate are smart despite their behavior. We see constant evidence that neither of them are all that bright, but the implied details of their vague revenge scheme are supposed to prove otherwise.

Through it all the women bond in their shared suffering at the hands of a man, but they’re not allowed to be content in that struggle and victory. They’re just not complete with female friends and a renewed sense of pride and purpose, so it’s a good thing there are other men waiting in the wings to make them whole again by the time the credits roll.

The issues extend beyond the faux feminism and generic simplicity (particularly in the third act) to include a character played by Nicki Minaj calling an unnamed woman “fat” as a punchline, Carly’s father (Don Johnson) telling her to dress sexy for her man and a shot that holds for several seconds on a dog shitting on the floor. The odor emanating from the screen is a mix of crap and desperation as it tries to walk the line between girl power and raunch that worked so well for the likes of Bridesmaids.

Diaz gets top billing here, but it’s Mann who saves the film from being completely forgettable. She’s a consistently reliable actress, and it’s her ability to pair comedy and pathos into the same moment that adds depth and warmth to a character that doesn’t have it on the page. Mann’s tears evoke pity even as her delivery brings laughter, and she makes Kate’s otherwise simplistic journey into one with a few emotional stops along the way.

Upton doesn’t have anything resembling acting talent, but she brings something else to the film that’s sorely needed here and in far too many Hollywood movies — a woman’s body. She has hips! She’s not rail-thin! Of course Mann is very attractive too, but it’s a refreshing change of pace when her character acknowledges that Upton “brings up the group average” between her and the equally skinny Carly (Diaz). Because it’s true. Coster-Waldau meanwhile has the thankless role of cheating bastard, and while he’s game to go through the paces of being a walking punching bag it’s probably something he’ll refrain from adding to his resume. At the very least his extended bathroom stall sequence might be the one performance he neglects to share with family members (and I’ve seen what he did on Game of Thrones last week).

The Other Woman will find an audience with women hungry for easy jokes at the expense of the pricks of the world, and hopefully Mann will find more offers for better roles because of it, but let’s not pretend this is a great day for women or movie lovers. The film has an easy-going energy about it due largely to sunny locales, a game cast and a disinterest in anything weighty, but it’s barely strong enough to lift us above the hot, coiled mess the dog leaves on the floor.

The Upside: Leslie Mann tries so damn hard and finds the film’s only real laughs; refreshing seeing someone (Kate Upton) who isn’t Hollywood skinny being identified as sexy

The Downside: Rarely funny; plot machinations are given little afterthought; a Mission:Impossible musical cue in a comedy… why hasn’t anyone else ever thought of that; not one but two poop gags!

On the Side: Leslie Mann is married to Judd Apatow and has appeared in all four of his features.

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