Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Other Woman (20th Century-Fox/LBI Productions, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran Charles and I a recent movie last night, The Other Woman, a 2014 romantic comedy with some pretty mordant undertones. I’d bought this one by mistake at Vons — I thought it was a discount oldie but they charged me rack rate for it and I didn’t want to bother telling them I didn’t want it — and Charles shared my mistake, in a way: when I told him the basic plot (a successful woman attorney finds out her boyfriend of eight weeks has a wife, she and the wife meet, they find that he’s already got yet another girlfriend and the three women team up to extract their revenge on this man) he wondered if it was a Lifetime movie. It could have been, except both the stars (Cameron Diaz as the attorney, Leslie Mann as the wife, Kate Upton as the bimbo and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the guy who’s used them all) and the director (Nick Cassavetes, son of John) have upper-level cachet these days, and the movie was such a success it dethroned last summer’s Captain America sequel as the number one box-office grosser on its original release weekend. The Other Woman turned out to be, if not a total laff-riot, a quite amusing and genuinely entertaining film. The characters of attorney Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz), whose cutthroat killer instincts have made her a success at her profession but done her less good in the world of dating; cuckolded wife Kate King (Leslie Mann — whom I think came off as a bit too whiny, reminding me of all the jokes about Teri Garr in Close Encounters of the Third Kind that she’d made herself so repulsive her husband would get on a spaceship flown by aliens from another planet just to get away from her; about the last thing we want in a movie about a man getting his comeuppance for cheating on his wife is the wife drawn as such a drip we start feeling sympathy for him!) and rather faceless bimbo Amber (Kate Upton, whom Cassavetes shows us butt-first while Carly and Kate joke that she’s a walking — and ass-swinging — cliché of the sort of woman a man picks up to steer him through his mid-life crisis). I could have done without the involuntary body-function gags just about every movie that attempts comedy seems to be obligated to have these days — in addition to Kate feeding him estrogen in his smoothies (so he grows small but discernible breasts with sensitive nipples; it’s also supposed to render him impotent with the fourth woman he gets involved with as part of the plot, but the revenge-seekers notice that isn’t happening and figure he’s using Viagra), Carly slips him a laxative so he has to beat a hasty retreat to a restaurant restroom, doesn’t get his pants off in time and has to try to buy a replacement pair while still stuck behind the stall door (though the tight red velvet pants he comes home in after all this are quite amusing).

Otherwise, though, the film is genuinely funny even though it does seem to fall off a bit in the final third — until screenwriter Melissa K. Stack throws us a curveball that’s considerably less of a surprise than she obviously thought it was. It seems the guy, Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) — and yes, it was a bit creepy to be watching a movie in which the principal villain was my namesake! — is not only a sex addict but a crook as well. His official business is raising venture capital and supplying it to Internet start-ups — but every company he’s launched that was actually a success was an idea suggested to him by his wife, whom he never gave either credit or money. With a possible divorce looming, he’s decided to abscond with his remaining assets by electronically transferring them to Bermuda, and as an extra precaution he’s set up shell companies with his wife listed as CEO (and tricked her into signing the papers for them) so if he’s caught stealing his investors’ funds, she will be legally to blame and he’ll be in the clear. Only Carly catches on to this — she is a lawyer, after all! —and our three musketeerettes head to Bermuda, where Kate withdraws the million-plus her no-good husband has stashed there under her name, escapes prosecution by paying back the investors her husband stole it from, and launches her own company (with Carly as her legal advisor) that becomes a legitimate success. There are also two other males in the film that add to the merriment — Taylor Kinney as Kate’s contractor brother Phil (whom Carly ends up with at the end) and Carly’s father Frank (Don Johnson — yes, that Don Johnson), whom Amber latches on to as her latest sugar daddy once Mark ends up not only divorced and jilted but broke — and a marvelous sidekick performance by singer Nicki Minaj as Carly’s office assistant Lydia (the sort of part that would have gone to Joan Blondell if Warner Bros. had been making this in the 1930’s). I must say Minaj has been pretty much off my radar screen since I’m not a big fan of the modern dance-pop music that’s her chief claim to fame, but though she has little screen time she turns in an excellent performance in a voice-of-reason role and I’d gladly watch other films she’s in.

About the only weak link in the cast is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who’s neither drop-dead gorgeous enough to convince us he could get all those women to have sex with him nor a great enough comic actor to make his plight at the end hit home — but then barring a successful experiment to clone Cary Grant, it’s hard to imagine anyone today who could have played it (and I found myself mentally casting a putative late-1930’s or early-1940’s version with Grant as the asshole anti-hero, Barbara Stanwyck as the attorney, Ginger Rogers as the wife, ditzy Marie Wilson as the bimbo, Tom Neal as the brother and John Barrymore as the attorney’s dad, even though it’s next to impossible to imagine this material getting by the Production Code) — even in today’s looser but still maddeningly arbitrary censorship regime, the producers originally got an “R” rating because the dialogue included the word “vagina,” but they protested and got it knocked down to PG-13. I was also amused to note on’s “Trivia” page for this film that Dana — a heavy-set character of uncertain gender (they have a blond wig and a bad yellow dress, but a moustache and beard “outs” them as genetically male) whom one of the women invites to join her for a three-way with Mark, and who grips Mark in a bear hug and lifts him off the floor — was played by Colin Bannon, director Cassavetes’ long-time assistant — and, speaking of Nick Cassavetes, anyone who expects his films to look like his father’s, with long stretches of hesitation as the actors improvise their dialogue and an overall sluggishness of pace (or lack of same), needn’t worry: The Other Woman is shot from a tightly constructed script by Melissa Slack and it moves quickly and is refreshingly free of angst.