The Other Woman, the latest rom-dram-com from Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, My Sister's Keeper), is neither as funny as you might expect for a film co-starring Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann nor as dark and edgy as it seemingly wants to be throughout much of its a tad too long running time just shy of two hours.
While The Other Woman never quite lives up to its potential, it is still one of early 2014's better comedies and that rare film that fully develops its female characters rather than allowing them to exist as nothing more than cardboard caricatures. Cameron Diaz, whose early career is littered with far too many blonde bimbo routines, has been finding herself as of late with roles that are more intelligent, more confident, and infinitely more edgy. This time around, Diaz is Carly, a Manhattan attorney who has seemingly found Mr. Right, Mark (Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Game of Thrones), a guy who manages to be the perfect trifecta of handsome, wealthy, and available.
Okay, well maybe two out of three ain't bad.
After a late night adventure to snag her man in full-on slutty plumber wear goes wildly awry when it's not Mark that answers the door but his previously unrevealed wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). Carly is, in fact, the other woman. No, wait, Kate is the other woman.
Okay, I suppose they're both the other woman.
Regardless, Mark is a cheat.
First-time screenwriter Melissa Stack rather wisely and insightfully doesn't try to sell Carly as a woman who is simultaneously a successful lawyer and an emotional basket-case. In fact, after she learns the truth Carly is ready to simply move on.
There's only one problem. Kate.
In what may very well be her most satisfying role to date, Leslie Mann's Kate is loyal and loving and way overly comfortable and, yes, it is actually she who is in many ways the emotional basket-case. While Carly's ready to move on, Kate can't quite face up to the fact that she's sacrificed her own career and her dream of kids for a man whose excessive work hours are revealed to be nothing but a charade. Mann manages to wring every ounce of comic potential out of outrageous scenario after outrageous scenario, yet the real kicker is that she manages to make us care about Kate along the way.
The chemistry between Mann and Diaz feels an awful lot like the chemistry between Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in The Heat, though The Other Woman is less funny, a bit more serious, and far more respectful of its attitude towards its women. It's refreshing to have a film that finds the comedy in situations that aren't always brimming with humor, but it also manages to do so without reinforcing negative stereotypes or portraying its female characters as victims. Mark, played with smarmy delight by Coster-Waldau, is the most stereotypical character in the film in so much as he's a narcissistic player with seemingly no insight into the people that he's hurting along the way.
The downside to there being such a strong chemistry between Mann and Diaz is that by the time woman #3 comes along, Amber (supermodel Kate Upton), it feels like unnecessary excess that does nothing to advance the story and dilutes the Mann/Diaz "buddy" chemistry to such a degree that the film loses steam in its final third until its rousing closing scenes that satisfy both the funny bone and the heart.
There's nothing particularly wrong with Upton's performance, though she noticeably pales in comparison to Mann and Diaz and is given far less to do other than do her best Bo Derek imitation. Amanda is simply an unnecessary character that adds a good 15-20 minutes of unnecessary material to a film that feels a good 20-25 minutes too long.
Modest issues with the character of Amanda aside, The Other Woman is well cast down to even the smallest supporting roles. Don Johnson shines as Carly's playfully libidinous father, while Taylor Kinney takes a rather paper thin role as Kate's brother and gives it some emotional depth. It pains me to acknowledge that popster Nicki Minaj exhibits some decent comic timing as Carly's assistant, though her opening scene is laughably misguided as this "professional" assistance in a high falootin' law office is dressed more like a street walker with a visible leg tattoo.
The Other Woman is a flawed film, but it's also a film with quite a few laughs and more than a little heart mixed inside its fem-centric revenge fantasies. While the film's edgy impact is muted by its too frequent willingness to go for cheap gross-out humor, The Other Woman's cast is at the top of its game and they elevate what could have easily been a run-of-the-mill disaster into a comedy worth watching.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic