Even those who are not well-versed with the American cinema of the 1970s have probably heard of writer/director John Cassavetes. He is considered the godfather of independent film in America, a figure who influenced low-budget filmmaking more than any other person not named Robert Redford. His films, which include Seconds and A Woman Under the Influence, are raw, revealing, semi-improvised explorations of marital life, sex, music, romance, suburban ennui, infidelity, aging and death.
However, the apple falls very far from the tree. John’s son, director Nick Cassavetes, is known for making sap, his filmography full of emotionally-charged titles like The Notebook, John Q and My Sister’s Keeper. However, with his latest film, the female revenge comedy The Other Woman, Nick transplants some of the plot elements from his father’s films – notably, Faces, about a man’s infidelity with a much younger woman – into a dumb, pathetic mess of slapstick miscues. The film is hysterical, but in the poorer use of the world, less funny than maniacal.
Cameron Diaz is about 10 years too old to play Carly, a New York attorney who is tired of men hanging up on her. She thinks she has found something better with Mark King (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a debonair man with a large bank account who also drives an Aston Martin. (The Other Woman, if anything, proves that Coster-Waldau could be a fine James Bond.) Mark unleashes flowers and rooftop champagne on Carly, but hides a little secret: he is married to an antsy housewife, Kate (Leslie Mann).
Carly catches the womanizing Mark in the lie and resolves not to see him. She then confronts Kate about her husband’s cheating ways, which turns Kate into a nervous, neurotic, bi-polar woman who jumps between blubbering in sorrow and shrieking in volcanic rage at Carly. Kate calls the lawyer Mark’s “mistress,” although Carly objects, saying that she did not know he was married. However, when Mark flies off to the Hamptons to meet another girl, ditzy blonde Amber played by swimsuit model (and likely short-lived actor) Kate Upton, they begin to hatch a plan to punish Mark for his infidelity addiction.
At one point in the movie, one of these three scheming ladies shouts at Mark that there is “a hole inside him where something real should be.” One can yell a similar remark at Melissa Stack’s script, which is full of physical pratfalls but rarely has a moment of poignancy. There are a couple of moments, too brief, where Mann’s character is silent, sitting in sorrow, as she contemplates how quickly her husband uprooted her marriage and how lonely it makes her feel. These dramatic moments speak to a humanity within Kate that barely appears in the rest of Cassavetes’ film.
For the vast majority of The Other Woman, Mann runs around like a cartoon, dressing in all black when spying on Mark and clinging to Carly as she guzzles down alcohol. She flails, yells and wallows in her pain through torturously bad slapstick and scatalogical humour. These moments are so cartoonish that the torment the character feels due to her husband’s betrayal hardly registers. It’s the most miscalculated performance in a movie full of them.
The Other Woman is one of those high-energy New York-set comedies where the protagonist has a lavish, high-paying job but has all the time in the world to abandon her work post to become involved in slapstick hijinks. As Carly, Diaz is not awful as much as mis-cast, and her character is strangely passive. She does not seem to care much for getting back at Mark, but is more interested in landing a date with Kate’s brother, the handsome Phil (Chicago Fire’s Taylor Kinney, portraying the sweet puppyish boyfriend, akin to Chris O’Dowd’s role in Bridesmaids.)
Meanwhile, Upton is playing less of a character than a walking, talking blonde joke. Her dim characterization is Amber’s only defining feature – besides her model physique. (Yes, she does model a swimsuit in her first scene, shown from the voyeuristic perspective of Kate’s binoculars.) She proves to be an inessential asset to the film, although she provides eye candy for any man who happened to stumble into the wrong cinema.
The soundtrack should also be mentioned, as it wavers from literal song choices – “New York, New York” over the city’s skyline, a scaled back rendition of “Love is a Battlefield” – to mildly clever (the film opens with Etta James’ “A Sunday Kind of Love” as Mark romances Carly and closes with a tune evoking the sadness of that very day). However, this is also the upteenth romantic comedy to use Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” as a female power anthem and the Mission: Impossible theme over a suspenseful moment.
The Other Woman should receive a very small audience base. Women under 13 are too young for some of the film’s more sexually suggestive jokes, which include unfunny, stereotypical jabs at transsexuals and Asian women. Females over 18 will probably find much of the characters’ behaviour to be insolent and irritating, as they watch adults descend into catfights, very PG-13 name-calling and silly revenge schemes. Men of any age will find it repugnant and ridiculous, to the extent that the studio may as well erect fences near the auditorium doors with a sign reading: Men Should Keep Out.
When Nicki Minaj, playing Carly’s secretary Lydia, is one of the more restrained parts of your film, something is deeply wrong. The three leading ladies all look more like dolls, which is appropriate given their thin characterization, while Stack’s script pins most of its comedic stock on two jokes involving defecation. Neither one is funny though.
The biggest stain on The Other Woman is not just that Cassavetes fails at delivering moments of outrageous physical comedy, but that the relatable human drama is barely there, either. It is like a more superficial version of 9 to 5, with an excess of gross-out humour and a complete lack of laughs. It is a dumb, ugly, agonizingly unfunny mess that could have been much better if Nick possessed a fraction of his father’s ability to tell stories filled with rage, humanity and truth.
The Other Woman stars many beautiful people, but is an ugly, unfunny mess, full of irritating characters who are devoid of humanity.