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The Nasty Gender Politics of 'The Other Woman'

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Friday, Apr 25, 2014
If the battle between the sexes was an actual war, The Other Woman would be these ladies' Waterloo. Just by participating in this pathetic excuse for personal payback, they set their gender's cause back several significant steps.
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The Other Woman

Director: Nick Cassavetes
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Nicki Minaj

(20th Century Fox; US theatrical: 25 Apr 2014 (General release); UK theatrical: 25 Apr 2013 (General release); 2014)

According to the new RomCom, The Other Woman, the female of the species can be categorized in at least one of several specious ways. First, they can be a trusting and totally committed spouse who gets blindsided by an adulterous husband. The trauma that results from such a breakup turns the otherwise functioning housewife into a simpering psycho who struggles to sound coherent and fails at acting adult. She is destined to be downplayed as an uninspiring partner until the mandatory make-over and/or discovery that she is really the brains behind her hateful hubby’s success. By the end, she’s both the conqueror and the conquered, happy to be manless but equally unhappy for the same reason.

  
Then there is the mistress, sometimes made out of steel and yet determined to keep her fragile heart from being broken. She will either be a powerful and important professional who still feels empty and ordinary with a man to make her whole, or she will be a total trophy bimbette whose brains are far outweighed by both her undeniable naiveté and/or her breasts. The former will find herself vulnerable to the advances of the slick, showboating cheater while the latter is looking for the daddy who abandoned her (or something like that). Both will wind up crying in a bottle of wine and/or trying on their wardrobes as a way of licking their wounds.


Indeed, no matter how careful she really is, the wife will be caught completely off guard, the working gal will gladly go all gooey for a pretty face (and some sweet abs), and the youngster will feel safe and secure in the older man’s wealthy and toned arms. Indeed, a movie like this offers a message that is loud and clear - a woman’s not a woman without a man, or twisted a bit, getting the better of a man. So naturally, these three gals get together, pool their screenplayed resources, and turn the tables on the bad guy. He gets his comeuppance, complete with scatological slapstick involving explosive diarrhea, a toothbrush dipped in toilet water, and a hair-remover/shampoo substitute.


If the battle between the sexes was an actual war, The Other Woman would be these ladies’ Waterloo. Just by participating in this pathetic excuse for personal payback, they set their gender’s cause back several significant steps. Granted, few people are going to the movies to measure their feelings on feminism, but when a high priced Manhattan attorney named Carly (Cameron Diaz) goes careening out of a suburban McMansion window while helping her distraught, about to be divorced BFF Kate (Leslie Mann), all notions of equality go flying out after her. Instead of playing it smart, first time feature writer Melissa Stack decides to throw her fellow females under the bus…and it’s messy.


Our bedhopping heal is Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). He’s an entrepreneur, using ideas given to him by his goofy wife Kate (Mann) to bilk millions out of unsuspecting investors (yes, not only is he unfaithful, but he’s a thief as well). For the last few months he’s also been dating Carly (Diaz), a whipsmart legal eagle who never lets herself get too close to the men she’s involved with. This drives her snide secretary Lydia (a surprisingly good Nicki Minaj) nuts. Mark, on the other hand, has managed to work his way into her heart. When a surprise visit to his home unearths a completely clueless Kate, Carly decides to help the poor woman get back at her hubby. When the two discover that he’s also wooing the walking sex doll Amber (Kate Upton), the need for total revenge grows even more contrived.


It’s a shame, really. Sometimes you see how smart and funny The Other Woman could be. There are moments in the movie where something genuinely clever and compelling happens and you wish the narrative would stay there. But then Nick Cassavetes uses his understanding of the mainstream moviegoer’s mindset to introduce scenes of a dog defecating, a man complaining about his newly sprouted nipples (complete with complimentary tweaking), and at least a dozen instances were Leslie Mann crumbles into a pile of gibbering, snot-covered crazy. Unlike Woody Allen, who places situations like this into the proper humorous perspective with Algonquin Roundtable like regularity, this film is for the Wal-Mart crowd. They do want Trader Joe’s. Today’s audiences obvious demand a significant dramatis discount.


Thus we have three competent stars - well, two established stars and one up and coming pin-up -  struggling mightily against a script that has them doing things antithetical to their intentions. Instead of Carly using his legal skills to set Kate up for life, she decides to give her relationship advice - and this is coming from the woman who usually doesn’t mention her dates by name, just cheeky acknowledgement shortcuts like “Mr. BMW” or “the Gym Rat.” Worse still, when Amber shows up, she has no real role to play in Mark’s comeuppance. About the most she does offer is to sleep with him, just to keep him off the trail of their planned payback (I know - it makes no sense). There are times when the dialogue hits all the right marks, making us aware that these woman have a lot of potential. Then the script sideswipes them for more easy laughs.


In the end, we wind up with a film that’s both horribly hackneyed and surprisingly watchable. Diaz does her best as the center of this movie Miss maelstrom while Mann manages to be more icky than endearing. As stated before, Kate Upton is given nothing to do except run on the beach in her bikini…in slow motion…with the lens leering like a collection of dirty old men and Coster-Waldau is a decent, if highly derivative baddie. Still, because we get caught up in the sense of interpersonal justice being bandied about, we start to sympathize with these characters, even if said attention is rarely returned. No, The Other Woman actually wants to peg all women, making them seem shallow, shrill, and silly. In doing so, it undermines everything a 2014 take on the genre could deliver.


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