Directed by Nick Cassavetes. Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Leslie Mann, Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney, Nicki Minaj, Don Johnson. Written by Melissa Stack.
You look at the trailer for The Other Woman, and you want to scream: high concept premise, broad comedy, joke-underlining editing, over-emphatic pop tune soundtrack, and shrill dumb-dumb leads. A rundown of the lowest-common-denominator chick flick clichés, checking off obvious tickbox after obvious tickbox.
But wait: The Other Woman was directed by Nick Cassavetes, son of legendary actor-director John Cassavetes and director of smart, insightful films like She’s So Lovely and Alpha Dog (he’s also helmed heartstring-tugging mainstream fare like The Notebook and The Other Sister, but he’s shown an adept hand at those, too.)
And lo and behold, The Other Woman is not the film the trailers were selling. Not entirely, anyway, and not from the word go. It opens with a romance between lawyer and New York City career-woman Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz), and womanizer Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who seems like a nice-enough guy until it’s revealed he has a wife at home.
That happens when Carly – decked out in a sexy plumber’s outfit – comes to fix Mark’s leaky pipes at his Connecticut home (I like the gender-reversal riff on the sitcom One Day at a Time here, though I doubt that was intentional). Anyway, Mark’s wife Kate (Leslie Mann) answers the door, and then something strange happens…
Instead of the obvious joke-cutting – hinted at by the trailer – Cassavetes subtly holds on these characters far longer than expected in this half-funny, half-painful moment, letting the revelation fully sink in. You expect a confrontation, or a quick comedy gag, but no – as a confused Kate looks on, Carly attempts to backtrack, breaking her heel and an oversized vase as she lies her way out of the situation.
But as Cassavetes awkwardly lingers on the moment, the low-key comedy dissipates and the larger meaning of what has just occurred comes into light: Carly has just had her heart broken, and Kate’s life is about to be turned upside down.
That’s not your typical chick flick moment, and I was downright shocked to see some genuine heartfelt emotion during the first half of The Other Woman, as Kate and an initially reluctant Carly strike up a friendship and plot revenge (kind of) on Mark. For a good while, the film balances nicely between the kind of glossy Sex and the City vibe and the uncomfortably darker wit of films like Bridesmaids and Bachelorette.
Only problem: it can’t sustain that balance, and during its final act the film becomes exactly the kind of film the trailer was selling, with montages in place of plot playing out over the most obvious music choices imaginable: Sinatra crooning New York, New York over the NYC skyline, Major Lazer’s Bubble Butt at a bikini pool party, Carly and Kate gettin’ down to Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and then a remix of I’m Coming Out for an upbeat all’s-good finale. Sigh. Really, guys? Really?
A lot of the downfall has been attributed to Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton, who shows up halfway through the film as a second mistress of Mark’s and joins our leads in revenge. Upton doesn’t get much of a chance to display any acting chops, but she does fill out a white bikini aping Bo Derek in a sequence lifted straight out of 10. Mann and Diaz, meanwhile, make for a great comic duo: their scenes together are just about all The Other Woman has going for it (popstar Nicki Minaj also shows some New Yawk comic chops in a few scenes as Carly’s assistant).
It’s not that Cassavetes loses control of the picture, but the awkward lingering tactics he uses so well during the first half just feel strange as the characters enact their revenge. After mixing laxative in his cocktail (bravo, debut scribe Melissa Stack), most films would be content to cut away on a shot of him running to the restroom.
But Cassavetes holds on this sequence for minutes(!) as Mark enters a stall, violently shits himself (the soundtrack is not kind on the ears) and begs a stranger for a clean pair of pants. After an ungodly amount of time has passed, we finally get a comic edit as Mark comes home in a pair of red, tight-fitting hipster jeans; all that bathroom gross-out stuff could have been cut out, and the punchline would have had the same effect. The director was going for something here, but since we don’t identify with Mark as we do with the female leads, the whole sequence just feels weird. An unexpectedly violent finale has the same effect.
The Other Woman had me going for a while – and there are some genuinely funny and touching moments here and there – but by the end it turns into the shrill chick flick the trailers have been selling. And a pretty strange one, at that.