Revenge is sweet (and sour)
At first glance, The Other Woman seems capable of breathing life into the tired romantic comedy. All the genre really needs to stay fresh is a slight reconfiguration, and this has that; with the male lead very much a background player and catalyst for the story, it uses its rom-com components – tearful apologies, fist-pumping resolutions – to structure female rather than cross-gender relationships. Just don’t hold your breath for another Bridesmaids.
As we learn through a smart use of montage, Cameron Diaz’s Carly is getting pretty serious with Mark (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a man who, at least on the surface, seems like perfect marriage material. Boy does a big surprise await her. As she arrives at Mark’s house prepared for erotic role-play, his wife Kate (uh-oh) opens the door and quickly connects the dots.
The interesting thing about this interaction is that, instead of competing for Mark’s hand, they are soon bonding over being mutual victims of his dishonesty. There’s a buoyant sense of female solidarity here (expect plenty of high-fiving), but also of realism, as Kate (a hysterical Leslie Mann) continues to make excuses for the one she loves. Unfortunately, besides subplots like that one, Nick Cassavetes and his film too often leave Mann and Diaz to do the heavy lifting. The chemistry between the pair is superb, but not enough to hide the flaws of a first half that lacks good jokes and an obvious focus.
The Other Woman picks up the pace a little when the new best buds manipulate Mark’s unawareness to cook up wickedly silly revenge schemes. From here, it plays out like an unashamed revenge comedy, and though he turns to gross-out humour on too many an occasion, Cassavetes finally finds something he’s comfortable with. And it shows through the performances; Mann is a master at enlivening dry scenes with a facial contortion, Diaz bounces off of her as the straight-laced woman who wants to put the setback behind her, and Coster-Waldau displays the right mixture of sex appeal and sleaziness. So sloppy is Mark in covering up his misdemeanours that even a second, more underwritten mistress comes into the picture (Kate Upton as the naïve Amber). That she’s described as “the boobs” of the operation should tell you where that’s heading.
Despite that one very gratuitous scene, there are steps made here towards a message of female empowerment. Thus, that it degenerates into a straightforward revenge flick is a disappointment, as is a resolution that wraps the film up in a neat, improbable bow. It’s amusing in parts, but there was room for something more sophisticated and biting within this premise. Instead, this just feels like a missed opportunity.
Mann and Diaz are sparky enough to see it through the shakier jokes and meandering plot, but like a deceitful husband, The Other Woman promises a lot more than it delivers.