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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Netflix Recommends... The Other Woman (2014)

* 1/2

Director: Nick Cassavetes
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Lesley Mann

Oh Netflix. You know that when you "recommend" a film to me and then guess that I'll give a low rating, I just can't resist. I wish that I could. I wished that a lot while watching The Other Woman, a comedy of such strange and confused gender politics that it almost seems like it was written in one language, translated into another, and lost all meaning somewhere in between. It also appears to be only half-way written, given the way that plot threads just sort of peter out, resolve themselves off-screen, and sometimes only announce themselves after they've been resolved. One might be inclined to give the film credit for not only being headlined by women but starring two women over 40 at that, but consider this: despite being a movie ostensibly about women and without question marketed towards women (not to mention written by one), The Other Woman still manages to fail the Bechdel test even though passing it would literally only require that the two women at the center of the story have one conversation that isn't about a man.

The Other Woman begins with Carly (Cameron Diaz), a successful corporate attorney, just getting involved with Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), whom she connects with enough that, to the surprise of her assistant (Nicki Minaj who, by virtue of the fact that almost all the walls in the film are made of glass, ends up being the most wooden thing in the production), she's cut off the other men she's been seeing. What she doesn't know is that Mark is married to Kate (Lesley Mann), who is blissfully unaware that when her husband stays in Manhattan instead of returning to their home in Connecticut, he's staying with another woman. The two discover each other's existence when Carly decides to surprise Mark at his Connecticut home (for someone so good at cheating, Mark is pretty bad at cheating if his secret mistress knows the actual address where he lives with his secret wife), after which Kate perversely decides that she must become friends with Carly in order to understand why Mark is cheating. Carly is reluctant to have any kind of relationship with Kate, but Kate persists and eventually the two begin to form a friendship as Kate struggles over how to deal with what she's learned about Mark, a process which becomes especially difficult when they learn that Mark has another mistress: Amber (Kate Upton).

Carly and Kate bring Amber into the fold and the three begin plotting to get revenge on Mark, primarily by subjecting him to frat house pranks like slipping laxatives into his drinks, slipping hair removal cream into his shampoo, and secretly giving him estrogen. While Carly begins a flirtation with Kate's brother, Phil (Taylor Kinney), Kate begins to find herself drawn back towards Mark who, cut off from Carly and Amber, becomes slightly more attentive to her, giving her hope that their marriage can be saved. What Kate doesn't realize is that Mark needs her because she provides him with the ideas which have allowed him to succeed in business, and because he's setting her up as the fall person for a massive embezzlement scheme he's been running. Kate's desire to forgive and forget with Mark causes a temporary rift in her friendship with Carly, however, when Carly discovers that Mark is setting Kate up, she's back in with full force and she and Amber head down to the Bahamas for the final phase in the plan to deliver to Mark his comeuppance.

I'll praise The Other Woman before I bury it, because despite being terrible it actually does have a couple of things to its credit. There are some moments of great physical comedy that had me laughing despite the film being mostly laugh free, and Mann manages to bring touches of genuine depth to her character despite the film's attempts to keep the characters as one dimensional as possible. On top of that, it is refreshing that instead of blaming Carly and trying to get revenge on her, Kate recognizes that Mark is the one who has done her wrong and focuses her attention on him. But any feminist leanings that the film may have pretty much end there because though it's packaged as an empowerment narrative, it's ultimately a thinly veiled endorsement of deeply entrenched sexist ideas. Even if you ignore the fact that the whole premise of the film is that when a man harms a woman, a vindictive cabal of women forms to relentlessly seek vengeance in response, you still have to contend with the introduction of Amber, the lingering shots of her bikini-clad body running in slow motion acting like a neon sign flashing the words "male gaze." Then there's the way that the women are portrayed. Amber is the "dumb one" but she isn't dumb so much as blank, entirely lacking in anything remotely resembling a personality; Kate seemingly exists solely to be Mark's wife and has no purpose or ambition other than that until the film gets around to its tacked on happy endings; and then there's Carly who is supposed to be an intelligent and successful corporate attorney and yet cannot figure out how someone would go about hiding their income and has to ask her dad to explain it to her. Should I even mention that that scene involves Carly and Amber meeting Carly's dad at a special club called "No Hands" where Asian women cater to a customer's every need so that the customer literally does not have to use his or her own hands? I suppose if you're going to lather on the sexism this thick you might as well throw in some blatant orientalism as well.

If The Other Woman is a problematic film on a thematic level, it's pretty worthless on a basic narrative level. It presents as being a movie about female friendship, yet avoids actually exploring the relationships between the three women, preferring instead to take care of that through a series of montages (is there a "plotting revenge" montage set to the tune of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"? You better believe it) so that we can get past that pesky character development stuff and on with the slapstick and hijinks. It also presents as being about women not needing a man in order to attain happiness, yet ends with Carly expecting a baby with Kate's brother, and Amber randomly married off to Carly's dad. Kate does ditch Mark, but only after he's so publicly humiliated and his dignity so broken that he doesn't even seem like a human being anymore, let alone a "man." Regarding the ending, Carly ending up with Kate's brother is at least telegraphed consistently throughout the film, but Amber ending up with Carly's dad is some of the laziest tying up of narrative loose ends that I've seen in a long time. Between its confused politics and terrible plotting, The Other Woman is an utterly hollow film and a waste of 109 minutes.


Unknown said...

Snore- this review, ugh. Most movies are actually crap, which is why I chose to not watch this film until I came across it on cable. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was actually pretty good. The plot focuses around a cheating husband, so what (reviewer) else do you expect them to be talking about-bumblebees and knitting? This film is not hollow in the least. It shows depth of emotional struggle by a faithful wife overcoming infidelity on a massive scale all the while managing to be humorous as well. You act as though this film claims to be Shawshank Redemption and Oscar worthy and are calling it out for failing. This movie is exactly what it claims to be and your review is ridiculous.

Norma Desmond said...

Of course a movie doesn't have to be Oscar worthy in order to be considered good. I've never said otherwise. But just because a film isn't Oscar worthy doesn't mean you can't have any expectations of it whatsoever. You seem to be suggesting that if a film isn't trying to get awards, then it should automatically get a pass even if it's terrible.

Your comment lacks internal logic. You argue that I shouldn't approach this movie as if it's Shawshank Redemption (which I actually didn't do; I think it's pretty clear that I went into the film with pretty low expectations, which the film still managed to sail right under) when one sentence earlier you declare that it "shows depth of emotional struggle by a faithful wife overcoming infidelity on a massive scale all while managing to be humorous as well." If it's actually that good and that meaningful, then shouldn't it be evaluated in the same way that one would evaluate a good movie?

The husband's infidelities are the catalyst of the plot, it's true. That doesn't mean that in the wake of that, the women can't have conversations that flesh them out as human beings and allow them to be defined by something other than the men in their lives. The women in this movie do not have a single conversation that is not about men. They have no personalities of their own.

This movie is not "exactly what it claims to be." It's a false-empowerment narrative barely concealing lazy, retrograde sexism.