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The Other Woman (2014)

A Woman's Place

What is it about modern, female-centric comedies that makes my skin crawl? How can I sit in a theatre packed with howling, comedically enraptured women and frown for two straight hours--wishing a slow death upon the product makers, the consumers, and myself? Maybe I need therapy. Or maybe I'm not the problem.

Thanks to Bridesmaids' baffling financial and critical success, we've left the Catherine Heigl era of cold-careerist-woman rom-coms behind, and entered the realm of gross-out ensemble chick-flicks. And, no, the gross part doesn't include the rampant sexual humiliation, vomiting, or diarrhea gags--nor is it the fact that many of these allegedly adult-targeted films are written by women. No, what's most upsetting is that the target audience apparently doesn't know (or doesn't care) how brazenly they're being condescended to.

I don't know any women who would act the way the three leads in The Other Woman would act when faced with similar circumstances. Cold, high-power attorney Carly (Cameron Diaz) don't got time for no man--until she meets a particularly charming and handsome inventor named Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). They have romantic dinners, they go for romantic walks, they talk about meeting Carly's gruff horn-dog of a dad (Don Johnson). But none of this is to be: Mr. Wonderful has a house in Connecticut, fully furnished with a ditzy trophy wife, named Kate (Leslie Mann).

Mrs. Mark confronts Mistress Mark in her glitzy downtown office, unraveling like a female Zach Galifianakis and making the audience wonder if her hubby's compulsion to look elsewhere wasn't, perhaps, warranted. For the record, I don't condone cheating, but as played by Mann, Kate is a tornado of intensely bubbly, unfocused, squeaky voiced emotions: Mouseketeer-peppy one moment, bursting with tears the next, and always (always, always) droning on about some topic or other that absolutely no one cares about.

Granted, Mark could have walked out at any moment during their long marriage, if he'd wanted a woman of greater sophistication and/or fewer words. But like every other character in this low-rent Three's Company re-imagining, he doesn't have the spine to simply assert himself to the people who most need to hear his woes. Believe it or not, instead of Carly and Kate confronting the two-timer, they have a sleepover, where they play dress-up in Carly's closet; eat ice cream; and do each other's hair.

Most disturbingly, Kate accuses Carly of having zero percent body fat during their Disney Channel bonding session--which would be a sad plea for self-esteem if spoken by, say, Melissa McCarthy. But coming from the nigh-skeletal Mann, this line underscores the entertainment industry's bogus beauty standards, and sends a horrifying message to girls (and boys) everywhere.

Matters get worse when the women decide to follow Mark to the beach house he visits while ostensibly "on a business trip". There, they meet Amber, played by supermodel-turned-supermodel-in-a-movie Kate Upton. While spying on the couple by the ocean, Carly and Kate remark upon how much younger and more attractive she is, even tiptoeing into bi-sexual comments (of course!). Amber's got perfect hair, perfect boobs, an ass that won't quit, and--most importantly, Mark. Carly is so overwhelmed by rage and insecurity that she storms the beach (after Mark leaves) and tries to tackle Amber, using what I call "Springer Logic".

"Springer Logic" (inspired by The Jerry Springer Show, naturally) dictates that mistresses who don't know they're home-wreckers must be punished for sleeping with another woman's man. Instead of focusing their rage on, say, the guy doing the actual cheating, the jilted women in these scenarios seek to destroy the lust object itself.

Fortunately, Kate intervenes, and helps explain the whole situation to Amber--who, like her fellow club members, is just mortified enough to not actually do anything. Consider this: we now have three allegedly grown women who've discovered that their man is sleeping around. Mathematically speaking, I'd wager at least one of them would have the stomach to confront Mark on his bullshit and blow the story wide open.


Instead, we're treated to an elaborate plot to take all of Mark's money while secretly humiliating him by putting hair-remover in his shampoo, female hormones in his coffee, and a number of other gags you've seen in cartoons (I guess the local market was out of tailpipe-stuffing bananas).

For all its alleged female empowerment, The Other Woman cements its place as misogynist non-entertainment by staging a confrontation only after Mark is literally penniless and trapped in a building with lots of security. It's important to note that, up until now, he has been presented as dubious but weirdly protective of each of his romantic partners. He sees something in each of them (yes, even Kate) that brings out a different positive aspect of his personality. As the movie goes on, he becomes more duplicitous, angry, and, finally, downright frothingly evil. It's a shame, too, because I rarely see films of this kind where the male asshole character is so interesting (or, dare I say it, sympathetic).

Sadly, director Nick Cassavetes and writer Melissa Stack aren't interested in nuance, reality, or comedy. They think setting the camera on Nicki Minaj for way too long, in anticipation of one of her signature big-eye rolls constitutes humor (she allegedly plays Carly's secretary, but her true role is as a 2024 game-show trivia question). They also seem to believe that high-paid corporate lawyers like Carly can simply ditch out of work whenever they feel like it, in order to play a prank on the jerk they're somehow too unassertive to confront.

The Other Woman makes no sense, and has no sense of women. Like its contemporaries, the film is so desperate to play in the boys' box office clubhouse that it dumbs itself down and waves its shit-stained hands in the air screaming, "Look, guys! I can be gross, too!" What Cassavetes and Stack fail to grasp is that movies like The Hangover don't succeed simply by being gross. They have something to say about male bonding and foibles that are recognizable to their target demographic. Yes, women flocked to see The Other Woman this weekend because, frankly, it was one of the few offerings specifically for them. But will they revisit it? Will they quote it? Will they own it?

I suspect not. In the end, this is just a paint-by-numbers celebration of the men-are-no-good-stupid-dogs meme (except for the hunky construction worker that Carly falls for). That's fine, I guess. But it would be nice, for once, to see a portrayal of women that illustrates a contrast between genders.

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