Reviews

Is 'The Other Woman' Competing in the Cliché Olympics?

Natalie Portman and Scott Cohen in The Other Woman

Although The Other Woman has the potential to be socially relevant given today’s blended families, it doesn’t present anything new.


The Other Woman

Director: Don Roos
Cast: Natalie Portman, Scott Cohen, Lisa Kudrow, Charlie Tahan, Anthony Rapp
Length: 102 minutes
Rated: R
Distributor: IFC Films
Release date: 2011-05-17
Website

The opening sequence of The Other Woman is immediately gripping: Photos depicting parents welcoming a new baby cross-dissolve from one to the next as The Flaming Lips’ mournful tune “Do You Realize?” plays under. As the sequence fades into the present, it’s painfully clear the baby character is no longer alive. This stunning opening appears a prelude to something we’ve never seen before. It doesn’t take long, however, until The Other Woman spirals into everything we’ve seen before.

The Other Woman was written and directed by Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex, Happy Endings) and is based on the novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman. In The Other Woman, Oscar-winner Natalie Portman plays Emilia, a young Harvard Law graduate who falls for Jack (Scott Cohen), a married, high-profile New York lawyer. When Emilia becomes pregnant with Jack’s child, Jack divorces his wife Carolyn (Lisa Kudrow) to marry Emilia. Jack and Carolyn share custody of their son, William (Charlie Tahan), and Emilia takes on the role of William’s stepmother. When Jack and Emilia’s baby dies three days after being born, Emilia is left questioning her role within the family dynamic.

The story opens in medias res, but a flashback supplies the history of Emilia and Jack’s relationship. During the flashback, Emilia’s friend Simon (Anthony Rapp) responds to something trite Emilia says by asking, “Are you competing in the cliché Olympics?” Unfortunately, this question seems to apply to nearly every element of the story.

The clichés begin with Emilia and Jack’s meet cute in the office. After a period of exchanging furtive glances, Jack and Emilia finally express their sublimated love during – you guessed it – a business trip. And an unplanned pregnancy provides convenient motivation for Jack’s hasty divorce and subsequent marriage to Emilia.

Emilia is, of course, looked upon with silent scorn by the other parents at William’s school who see her as a “home wrecker”. Predictably, William becomes an unwitting pawn in the exes’ game of one-upmanship. And true to form, the William character is socially awkward yet possesses precocious insight -- just like child characters Elliot in E.T., Ray in Jerry Maguire, Cole in The Sixth Sense, or Manny on ABC TV’s Modern Family.

Even the film’s title, The Other Woman, is a hackneyed term (the source novel’s title was once a working title for the film; it may have been more intriguing). And the character’s names? The young, impressionable Emilia’s surname is Greenleaf; the prowling male Jack’s surname is, of course, Wolf.

Beyond its reliance on tried-and-tested formulae, the script itself has its own flaws. Despite instances of snappy writing, other scenes contain dialogue that is predictable or uninteresting (an exchange among Jack, Emilia and William in the back of a limousine is particularly stilted). Attempts at dramatic irony fall flat due to convention; for example, Emilia shows contempt for those whose own peccadilloes are similar to her own. And a scene where Portman’s Emilia disses Harvard to William feels absurd, given that Portman herself is a Harvard alumna and the line seems to break the fourth wall.

All this said, the actors’ performances elevate the content. Portman displays her Oscar-worthy capabilities with the depth and convincing emotion she lends her character, making the most of an uneven script with her excellent range. Charlie Tahan (I Am Legend, Charlie St. Cloud) infuses the role of William with introspective and enigmatic qualities that give the character great credibility. And even though Lisa Kudrow’s screen-time is limited, her portrayal of the spurned wife, Carolyn, is commanding. Later in the film, Kudrow provides a simple gesture as her character exits a scene; this gesture gives Kudrow’s character a richness and complexity that stirs the imagination.

The film’s soundtrack is beguiling, as it contains the aforementioned Flaming Lips’ track as well as music by Adele and by Belle and Sebastian. The sole extra on the DVD is the film’s trailer, a linear summary of the story, which is probably best to watch after viewing The Other Woman in its entirety.

Roos, who has explored themes of love, choices, happenstance and unintended consequences in his previous films, continues that exploration in The Other Woman. Although The Other Woman has the potential to be socially relevant given today’s blended families, it doesn’t present anything new. The Kids Are All Right ventured more boldly into that territory, and with more thought-provoking results.

Ultimately, The Other Woman feels safe and banal, like a Sunday-evening TV movie. The performances are strong, but the ideas are well worn.

5

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image