Monday, May 05, 2014

The Other Woman

THE OTHER WOMAN (Nick Cassavetes, 2014)

New York City lawyer Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz) has only been seeing Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) for eight weeks in THE OTHER WOMAN, but her behavior suggests she believes he may be the one with whom she’ll settle down. She’s exclusively dating Mark and even invites him to meet her dad Frank (Don Johnson). To her the first sign of trouble in their relationship comes when he calls off the dinner because he has to attend to a plumbing emergency at his Connecticut home. Nevertheless, Carly decides to make the best of the situation by putting on a sexy plumber’s outfit and surprising him at his place. She’s the recipient of the unexpected, though, when his wife Kate (Leslie Mann) answers the door.

Being confronted with news of her husband’s philandering shatters Kate. With no support system around her, she tracks down Carly for a shoulder to cry on. Carly is done with Mark because she refuses to go out with married men, but she’s not particularly sympathetic to Kate. Through their anger at Mark they gradually bond until Kate believes Carly may still have something on the side with him. To their shock, they discover he’s cheating on both of them with the nubile Amber (Kate Upton). Carly and Kate inform Amber of Mark’s ways and plot together to get their revenge on him.

THE OTHER WOMAN puts on a brave face as if it’s a gleeful women’s revenge comedy, but for much of its running time the characters’ pain overwhelms the feeble humor. Rather than feeling energized as they team up in sisterly power, Kate and Carly are forced to examine their lots in life. Kate is terrified at the idea that she has to choose between staying in a broken marriage or starting over without a career, family, or friends. She gave up her work for Mark, delayed having kids at his insistence, and has a social circle tied to his pals. Carly despairs at remaining in the dating world as the prospects become fewer and competition gets stiffer from younger women. Carly’s five-time divorced father habitually moves on to younger partners, so she’s keenly aware of what awaits her if she doesn’t snag a man soon.

In theory THE OTHER WOMAN views these existential conflicts from the female perspective. While it has the hallmarks of a Nancy Meyers film--complicated women’s love lives, lavish living spaces, and pop standards on the soundtrack--the sensibility behind THE OTHER WOMAN seems to belong more to a man. (The film is written by Melissa Stack and directed by Nick Cassavetes. The problems could be endemic to the screenplay, although how Cassavetes has scenes play suggests significant blame should be assigned to him.) The easy, unlikely friendship among Kate, Carly, and Amber reads as a misguided belief in divine sisterhood. The wronged women are often made to look more ridiculous than the man committing serial infidelity. All three continue to be drawn to and want to compete for Mark despite staggering evidence of his shortcomings. Mark is such a non-presence in the film that it hardly feels like a victory for the ladies when he is served his comeuppance. It’s also impossible to ignore that the camera adopts the leering male gaze when Amber is on screen in bikinis or low-cut clothing.

Diaz and Mann are fine comedic performers who also locate the anguish in their roles despite THE OTHER WOMAN not being particularly concerned with the deeper emotional aspect. Watching them flail about with material that doesn’t respect them goes to show how lousy the roles for women often are in Hollywood, even in a project targeted at the female audience. While women get more screen time here than they do as props for heroes in other films, they’re made to act like hens chasing after the rooster. It’s hardly a fair trade-off.

Grade: D+

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