By Don Simpson | February 6, 2011
Director: Don Roos
Writer(s): Don Roos (screenplay), Ayelet Waldman (novel)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Scott Cohen, Lisa Kudrow, Charlie Tahan
Taking full advantage of Natalie Portman’s current “It girl” status, IFC Films has dusted off writer-director Don Roos’ (The Opposite of Sex, Happy Endings) 2009 adaptation of Ayelet Waldman’s novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits for theatrical release. Yes, that gives Portman a monopoly of sorts at the cinemas this weekend — with No Strings Attached and Black Swan still in wide release.
Roos’ narrative is told in an all too clunky non-linear manner, but the overall gist is that Emilia (Natalie Portman) works as an associate at a law firm just long enough to score a wealthy and successful senior partner, Jack (Scott Cohen), as her hubby. Jack is married to Carolyn (Lisa Kudrow) when his relationship with Emilia begins, and it is not until Emilia is accidentally knocked-up that he files for divorce and weds the evil home-wrecker. Soon thereafter, their newborn dies, thus sending Emilia into an emotional tailspin. (It is not until we learn more about their baby’s death that we can fully grasp why Emilia is so crazed and riddled by grief.)
With no baby to call her own, Emilia has Jack’s eight-year-old son, William (Charlie Tahan), to care for. Well, care for is somewhat misleading; William is more like an object for Emilia to redirect all of her pent up anger and frustration. Emilia’s verbal berating of William is practically non-stop — and mostly without just cause — yet she also seems to want to win his friendship. (This is one of the many emotional tug-of-wars going on inside Emilia’s pretty little head.) Emilia is clearly not mother material, and Roos juxtaposes her carefree and oblivious approach with Carolyn’s overly vigilant and controlling parenting style. Poor William, he is getting the worst of both worlds with no middle ground.
What confuses me the most about The Other Woman is Emilia’s motivations. Her actions fit those of the stereotypical home-wrecker — the woman on the prowl for a rich husband to support her lavish lifestyle. Yet we are left with no understanding of what really attracts Emilia to Jack, because from what little Roos explains to us, it seems not to have anything to do with his money. (Admittedly, part of my confusion with their relationship is that I do not find Jack to be nice, charming or attractive.) For some reason, Emilia has sacrificed her career for Jack in order to become his son’s babysitter. I would possibly understand this sacrifice if she seemed to enjoy babysitting William (or if I was convinced that she loved Jack), or if she showed even a remote interest in children, parenting or marriage. On top of that, Emilia is practically tarred and feathered by every woman she comes within eyesight of merely because of her status as the dreaded second wife. Why, oh why, does Emilia stick around?
The biggest fault, though, is that Roos tries to pack too much into this one narrative film (the flashbacks and clichéd monologues do not help matters), smothering his characters in predicaments upon predicaments. But, then, The Other Woman is not all bad. Portman and Kudrow both reveal a knack for turning their characters into truly unlikable bitches. OK, so maybe I was never really convinced that Emilia was grieving the loss of a baby, but I was easily persuaded that I did not like her.