“The Other Woman”(not to be confused with the 2009 indie flick starring Natalie Portman) is not the first foray into the girls-turn-the-tables-on-the-guys formula, and it sure won’t be the last. Frankly, this is because it works, and should be an easy setup for some laughs. Well, it should be.
The film starts off smoothly enough. Carly(Cameron Diaz), a successful partner at a law firm, meets Mark(Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and she finds herself really liking him. Her co-worker Lydia(Nicki Minaj) alludes to the fact that Carly has been a bit of a player herself in the past, so this time, it might be serious. There is a long take from a rooftop bar that seems to hint at Carly’s growing affection for Mark. The scene is a credit to Diaz, who gets this point across without saying a word. But at this point, the lack of dialogue feels like a dynamic as opposed to an avoidance.
Later on, as one of the lead characters watches the sun rise while on the beach, somewhat-misplaced pop music plays in the background. The viewer then starts to realize that the the scene goes on for a bit, and the music just stays with it. Like the text that pops up at the end of the film to give viewers ‘updates’ on the characters(a popular dynamic in many mainstream films), the extended use of music seems to be a way to reduce the need for a dialogue.
In “The Other Woman”, reduced dialogue turns out to be a blessing. At points Kate(Leslie Mann) just seems to ramble incoherently, and it’s uncertain whether she forgot her lines and the director just went with it or if she is just ad-libbing. The strategy with Kate Upton's character is to give her as few lines as possible, although she does have one funny moment involving a pair of binoculars. First timer Melissa Stack’s screenplay finds few genuinely funny moments to work with, and on more than one occasion resorts to having characters(and a canine) literally drop a number two all over the film.
While it is amusing watching Mark get his comeuppance, by the end of the film he’s basically reduced to a clown. Watching him throw an aggravated temper tantrum isn’t the least bit funny. And similar air hangs over all the players here: they don’t once feel like real, authentic people. Minaj’s character is just shallow, and totally lacks the power to amuse. When Carly’s father(Don Johnson) tells his daughter to ‘put on something sexy’ to surprise her boyfriend, the viewer can’t help but think that no father would ever say that to his daughter. And when the three girls end up arguing over who is going to sleep with Mark to keep him from getting suspicious, the power is literally stripped from them.
Half the fun of this formula is giving the women the power. In “The Other Woman”, this power comes with a cost: too often the female characters resort to catfights. Kate comes off as just as big a clown as her husband, the purported ‘villain’ of the picture. When she sobs about having no job and no money and having to start dating again, the audience seemed to enjoy a hearty chuckle. How could anyone do anything else but pity her? Instead of concerning herself with getting a job and starting a new, independent life, she’s more concerned with having to return to the dating scene and dating men her own age. And all this from a female screenwriter. Shallow laughs run rampant in many a comedy these days. But to disrespect your heroines but hinting at the fact that they still can’t seem to resist the man-pig that was two-timing them all? That is the real tragedy.