In some ways too evolved to be a wronged-wife revenge farce, “The Other Woman” tries to become one anyway. But it’s just going through the motions.
There are fresh, unexpected aspects to this “First Wives Club”-esque comedy about a wife (Leslie Mann) exacting revenge on her cheating husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) with help from two women he dated extra-maritally (Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton, whose characters are not “mistresses,” the film underlines, because they did not know the guy was married).
At its heart, “Other Woman,” directed by Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”) and written by Melissa Stack, is the story of the unlikely friendship between Kate (Mann) and Carly (Diaz), the initial “other woman.”
When Kate finds out about Carly, they don’t bring out the figurative, “Real Housewives”-style claws. Kate, a Connecticut homemaker with dashed professional dreams and a now-untrustworthy husband, just sort of shows up at Carly’s office and doesn’t leave.
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They are not romantic rivals because Carly, a Manhattan attorney, dropped the cheater, Mark, after discovering he was married. It’s hard to say exactly what the two women are to each other at first. They figure it out during a lively getting-acquainted period that lasts at least 30 minutes, or about 20 minutes longer than a glossy Hollywood comedy usually devotes to female friendship development.
One’s enjoyment of this section rests squarely on one’s appreciation of Mann’s comic stylings. Best-known for playing the same chops-busting wife character in husband Judd Apatow’s films “Knocked Up” and “This Is 40,” Mann can be a polarizing figure. It’s because of her distinctive SoCal-laidback-yet-shrill voice, and all that chops-busting.
I am a fan of her comic delivery in all films and of her surprising flair for physical comedy in this one. Kate is not steely like most Mann characters, but emotionally and physically open, clinging to Carly, and later to Upton’s character, like a koala. A beautifully dressed Connecticut koala.
Kate is lost without the moorings of her marriage, and, at more lucid moments, acknowledges such. She’s bugging Carly, who is steely, because she’s avoiding dealing with her husband. Kate’s so desperate and adorable that Carly does not turn her away.
They bond in the clichéd ways women do in studio comedies, getting drunk and discussing personal grooming. But Mann and Diaz wring laughs out of tired setups while never letting things get too frivolous. There’s always an awareness that when the steam-letting period ends, Kate should go home to confront her marital problems.
Diaz has grown more interesting-looking with age. She now resembles Ellen Barkin. This is important, because Barkin’s presence always has said “watch out,” and Diaz’s has not. But we can buy this Diaz as a high-powered lawyer who decorated her apartment in variations of corporate-shark gray.
The breezy Diaz of years past would not be believable as the rock and voice of reason in a trio of women, as she is here. Diaz essentially acts as a straight woman for Mann and a seemingly reassuring presence for the lost-looking Upton, who factors in the film’s latter half.
Carly wonders, when Kate first comes around, what Kate wants from her, since she has stopped seeing Mark and should not be involved in their marital woes. It’s a valid question from a self-aware woman who later will ask what’s in it for her when Kate wants to sabotage Mark.
There’s self-awareness all around in “Other Woman” until it flies out the window in favor of high jinks. The film has lured us, through Kate’s and Carly’s smart, funny interactions, into thinking it might not be the tired movie its trailer indicates. I fell for it like Kate did for Mark’s pledges of devotion.
Carly, despite having sense and a job, agrees to Kate’s plan to follow Mark around to see what he’s up to. At this point, “Other Woman” goes broad and bad, in scenes involving bushes, binoculars and the “Mission Impossible” theme. (The soundtrack, which includes “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and “Love Is a Battlefield,” is so on-the-nose it might be ironic, but that probably gives it too much credit.)
The women find Mark has yet another woman, the buxom Amber, played by “Sports Illustrated” model Upton. Not since Mariel Hemingway in “Manhattan” has a screen performance been so unencumbered by visible indicators of thoughts in a head.
Compared with Upton, Taylor Kinney (NBC’s “Chicago Fire”), a beautiful man who also – let’s face it – gets cast at least partly for his looks, is an acting heavyweight as Kate’s contractor brother.
Upton is introduced on a beach in a bikini (of course, and that’s fine), but then keeps showing up. One’s profound disappointment with Cassavetes (and whoever else prepared Upton to be in front of a movie camera) becomes disappointment in Kate and Carly for wanting to hang around Amber, who contributes nothing.
You could say Upton’s role is so underwritten and thankless that no one could do it justice. That would be a disservice to Nicki Minaj and to Coster-Waldau. Singer Minaj also is a neophyte actress, and cast here as a character – Carly’s assistant – written as so “fierce” she borders on cartoon. But Minaj is funny and charismatic.
Coster-Waldau (“Game of Thrones”) has taken on the most thankless role of the year, as the lying, stock-character husband. But he goes down swinging, so fully committing to bits of physical comedy that he makes Mark memorable beyond his misdeeds.
You almost want them to play “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” over Coster-Waldau’s scenes. But that tune is too obscure for this film.