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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 25 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 17
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Mann, Diaz shine in otherwise unflattering Woman

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE OTHER WOMAN
Now playing


In many respects, The Other Woman is not the movie you think it is going to be. What looks on the surface to be nothing more than a facile, superficial gross-out comedy about three women (two of whom are the unknown mistresses of the third's supercilious cad of a husband) wants, in its heart, to be so much more than that. Screenwriter Melissa Stack attempts to manufacture a scenario where these women are more than their stereotypical parts, trying to craft a tale of female empowerment, bonding and sisterhood that rises above the trite obnoxiousness of the central narrative hook.

But then comes the last third of the film when it suddenly, irrevocably and disappointingly transforms into exactly the film most would have expected it to be from the start, erasing much of the good will generated by the initial portions with upsetting rapidity. It takes disastrous turns, making its heroines so much less than they should be, reveling in nasty bits of bathroom humor and offensive misogynistic undertones (not to mention ghastly gender identity stereotypes) that are difficult to take seriously let alone endure with anything close to comfort.

Until then, however, The Other Woman is surprisingly winning. When hotshot New York lawyer Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz) discovers the man she's been having a whirlwind romance with, startup investment wizard Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is secretly married, she immediately tries to cut all ties with him. Problem is, the guy's needy, relatively insecure suburban housewife Kate (Leslie Mann) requires a shoulder to cry on and she's for some strange reason chosen the very woman who unintentionally wronged her to lay it on.

The pair strike up a friendship even though by all accounts they should hate each other. Yet, the more Carly gets to know about Kate and vice-versa, the more they realize they're largely cut from the same exact cloth, each finding ways to empower the other, giving them a reason to move on with their lives in hopes of bettering it for the long run. They talk to one another like adults, and although bouts of adolescent-like lunacy occur, for the most part they do their best to fall apart and put themselves back together with poise, intelligence and newfound tenacity.

It is during these sections that the movie works best. Mann is sensational, dominating the story with her emotionally complex, free-flowing performance, that constantly surprises, and never goes where you expect it to go. She takes a character who, on the surface at least, could have been indefensibly insulting, and transforms her into a figure of empowering grace, dignity and resilience, throwing herself into the role heart and soul with abandon. Mann is fearless, mining emotional terrain that's as complex as it is authentic, her breakdowns and crackups every bit as important and as inspiring as her internal resurrection and newfound strength of spirit.

As for Diaz, it's actually kind of nice to see her play the straight woman, and instead of being the one doing all the pratfalls and the hijinks, she instead gets to be the one who responds to them slowly, becoming the somewhat motherly center around which all else revolves. She doesn't back away from Carly's more odious and off-putting traits; instead she embraces them, knowing that by doing so she'll make her character's transformational journey more interesting and relatable than it would have been otherwise.

Even so, all of this ends up being for naught when the film finally decides to get around to its more tiresome aspects, most notably the arrival of a second mistress, bubbly good-hearted airhead Amber (Kate Upton), and the plot to get cold-hearted revenge on the man who's done all three of them wrong kicks into gear. It turns into an adult version of John Tucker Must Die - only played with little panache and almost zero charisma, going through the motions with pandering exactitude as it pertains to all that happens during this final third.

For whatever reason, Stack isn't content with keeping Mark a smarmy, selfishly misogynistic rake and instead feels the need to transform him into an outright inhuman monster. Problem is, by doing this she ends up inadvertently stripping her heroines of the traits and nuances that make them relatable and allow them to be human, an emotional connection between their travails and the audience experiencing it along with them, thus virtually impossible. It's a disastrous turn of events, frustrating to say the least, and by the time things ultimately, and predictably, play themselves out, I'm not sure I could have cared any less had I actively tried.

Director Nick Cassavetes admittedly stages a few inspired sequences - a scene where Carly attempts to shove Kate into a cab is borderline genius - and he's certainly made a better motion picture than his insipidly unwatchable travesty of melodramatic excess that is The Notebook, but that doesn't mean he works miracles. His handling of much of this borders on haphazard at best, nonexistent at worst; lackadaisical shifts in tone and pacing continually keeping the highpoints from clicking as regally as they maybe could have, while also accelerating the film's downfall by accentuating the more odious aspects in ways that are inexplicably noxious.

At the same time, as already stated, he does get great work out of both Mann and Diaz. Additionally, Upton doesn't do herself any injuries even if the character she's playing is as one-dimensionally cliché as they come, Cassavetes utilizing her far better than I anticipated possible. Don Johnson also has a few amusingly playful moments as Carly's randy father, while Zero Dark Thirty and 'Chicago Fire' heartthrob Taylor Kinney does wonders with what is an otherwise massively underwritten role portraying Kate's sensitively charming younger brother Phil.

Yet The Other Woman fails, close to miserably, if only because it takes its two main heroines and unceremoniously throws them under the bus. While other facets perplex and falter (the casting of Nicki Minaj is head-scratching in and of itself, but it's only one of many incongruities that arise), and while penultimate scenes with Coster-Waldau are unintentionally embarrassing, it's the fact the film suddenly and without provocation treats both Carly and Kate with such little respect that's most upsetting. It belittles and humiliates the two of them in ways that are close to unforgivable, making a movie I was ready to proclaim a nifty little April surprise into nothing more than an unflattering letdown I'd suddenly rather forget.

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