By Jessica Delfanti | April 25, 2014
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Writer: Melissa Stack
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Kinney
When I first saw the trailer for Nick Cassavetes’ The Other Woman, I was struck by a sense of deja vu: hadn’t we seen this film before? The classic setup where scorned women band together to exact revenge on their mutual boyfriend/husband to teach him a lesson about cheating? Yeah, we’ve seen it, multiple times. However, few of its predecessors are as packed with good humor, charming writing, and female friendship as the surprisingly good The Other Woman.
The film begins with Carly (Cameron Diaz), a high powered, eternally single attorney who believes she’s found the one in Mark (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau). When she discovers that Mark has a wife, Kate (Leslie Mann), the two women become unlikely friends. As they go on to uncover another mistress, Amber (Kate Upton), and other nefarious shenanigans, the women decide to take a cartoonish revenge on Mark with all the trademarks of this sort of movie: estrogen, Nair, laxatives, etcetera…
All of that doesn’t set the film apart from films like Jonathan Tucker Must Die. What makes The Other Woman feel different–and better–is the quality of writing in Melissa Stack’s script, and the life that Mann brings to her character. Mann has the best lines and knows how to work them: her Kate is darling and spunky and hilarious, and it’s easy to be on her side against the increasingly villainous Mark.
What really stands out to me from the film is the emphasis on sisterhood and garnering strength from other women instead of demonizing them. Titling the film The Other Woman calls out the tradition of allocating blame to the often ignorant woman sleeping with one’s husband or boyfriend–the “other woman” is the term women use to describe that force of evil in their world, or self-identify as the evil themselves. Here, the women in question don’t even seem to entertain the idea of hating the other women; instead, they team up to tackle the true bad guy: the smarmy, womanizing, exponentially two-timing Mark.
Unfortunately, this strength-through-sisters vibe gets completely destroyed with the entrance of Upton’s character. This little bit of stunt casting is hampered by Upton’s considerable lack of acting ability, but the filmmakers’ attempt to remedy the situation by giving her spare lines and making fun of how dumb she allegedly is doesn’t help the overall tone of the film. As we see Carly refer to Amber as the “boobs” and dismiss most of what she suggests with lines about her being too beautiful, too young, too dumb, or too something to be taken seriously, the film reestablishes another dangerous tradition in female behavior: tearing down women who are threatening. Doing so completely violates the female friendship that has been so lovingly built in the first act of the film, and makes the rest of the narrative feel flimsy and mean-spirited.
Even more mean-hearted is the eventual revenge that occurs. While we can laugh over things like estrogen shakes and Nair-laced Shampoos, when the women exact their final act, it is almost too cruel. The choice to use bodily injury in an attempt at physical comedy goes too far and ends up coming off as gruesome and over the top. The scene makes the viewer question their enjoyment of the film, and also consider how a movie of this nature finds its success deep at the heart of sexism–if the genders were reversed and three men were destroying a woman, including bodily harm, for cheating, the filmmakers would have to wade through pitchforks and torches to leave their homes.
The Other Woman ends up as a strange experience. For a film that makes some bad and uninspired choices, it is surprisingly watchable and had me laughing out loud. It almost warrants a separate grade for first and second half–it starts out with humor and female strength that rivals a film like Bridesmaids, then peters out into a forgettable cliche like so many other revenge chick-flicks.