Saturday, April 26, 2014

Once, Twice, Three Times a Cheater: THE OTHER WOMAN

The Other Woman is a light and amiable wish-fulfillment revenge comedy with all the tonal mismanagement that pile-up of descriptors suggests. Getting off to a good start, the film introduces us to a high-powered New York City lawyer (Cameron Diaz) head-over-heels for her new rich, handsome boyfriend (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). He’s her first serious relationship in many years. Too bad, then, that he’s married. When she finds out she’s understandably hurt, but not as much as his wife (Leslie Mann) is. He doesn’t know they know, and certainly doesn’t know they then spied on him and uncovered a second unsuspecting mistress (Kate Upton). From there the three women team up to get revenge on this no-good sleazeball. At first they play pranks, like putting a laxative in his water or estrogen in his power shake. But they don’t just want him humiliated. They want him to hurt. So they target his most vulnerable part: his wallet.

Totally uninterested in making this a dark or biting comedy, the screenplay by Melissa Stack finds fizzy complications that are treated as a lark. This leads to some gross-out gags like a defecating dog or a man in a fancy restaurant having an urgent bowel movement (what is it with this movie and poop?) that are certainly gross and might even make you gag, but I didn’t find them too funny. Okay, that second one was a little funny, but seems out of place, because elsewhere the emotions of the women are triangulated for comedy and light drama. Their common goal includes shifting desires and expectations for each of them at different points. They’ve certainly become friends under unusual circumstances, so it makes sense they wouldn’t always be on the same page. The wife, especially, has her doubts. Sure, he was cheating, but she wonders if that’s reason enough to throw away their marriage?

That’s an interesting question, or at least could be. But Stack’s script isn’t interested in exploring that. It’s too busy alternating between bubbly and goofy. Director Nick Cassavetes (of The Notebook and My Sister’s Keeper) shoots the film glossily. Everything is brightly lit and gleaming. The surroundings are as rich and white as the characters – big glass-covered offices, spacious high-rise apartments, and gorgeous beach houses. But I suppose that’s part of the wish-fulfillment of it all. Not only do we get to watch three beautiful women plot against an awful chauvinist, but we also get to see fancy clothes and nice architecture while they do it. Everyone’s so well off they can drop everything and go to the Hamptons or the Bahamas on a stakeout. Must be nice. I mean, aside from the whole finding out you’re all being cheated on thing.

What keeps this sloppy script and sparkling studio airiness watchable and even at times enjoyable is the strength of the cast. The three women at the center of the plot hold it down with their likable chemistry and funny personalities. They’re all clearly in their acting comfort zones, relaxed and capable of wringing laughs out of the sometimes lame material. One of them actually sells the old looking-through-the-wrong-end-of-binoculars sight gag. That’s no small feat. Leslie Mann is appealing as a tightly wound housewife who increasingly spirals into a manic panic over her husband’s infidelities before finding the clarifying purpose of plotting revenge. Cameron Diaz is fizzy and sarcastic, able to whip up a plan of action and have fun doing it. And Kate Upton is awfully good at selling ditziness, even if her character remains only a happy, curvaceous blank-slate. Seriously, what does she even do? Where does she go when she’s not on screen? We’ll never know.

They aren’t exactly the second coming of 9 to 5, the three-women-take-down-dumb-guy revenge comedy The Other Woman occasionally resembles, but that’s not entirely their fault. Get these three characters in a scene together, trading lines with one another, and it’s all pleasantly enjoyable. Mann’s flighty worry bounces nicely off of Diaz’s wry cynicism and Upton’s airheaded charm proves a fine glue to hold the trio together. But the movie has less to say about female empowerment than you’d hope, keeping the ladies firmly in their stereotypes. The tone wobbles all the way to the end, mixing broad slapstick and blunt innuendo right up to the climax in which the comeuppance we’ve been waiting for is a bit too eagerly vindictive. The movie doesn’t seem to think very highly of any of its characters, even the side characters like a small role for Nicki Minaj that dilutes the snap of her rap persona. That's a factor in the mishandled mood and empty point of view - are we supposed to root for them or view it all at a satiric remove? - that make for a hard movie to embrace. I didn’t mind it too much, laughing at times and smiling a few more, but it’s so slight and forgettable it’ll probably play even better in the middle of a weekend afternoon on TBS.

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