Movie Takes

The Other Women United

A revenge fantasy that neglects to be serious.

By 5.7.14

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There are a few implausibilities at the heart of The Other Woman, Nick Cassavetes’s female revenge fantasy to a script by Melissa K. Stack. Everything depends on the appearance by Carly (Cameron Diaz) at the front door of the home in Connecticut shared by Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). Carly is Mark’s girl-friend and, having no idea of Kate’s existence, has arrived from Manhattan to surprise him by helping, as she believes, with a household emergency. To that end she has dressed herself up as a sexy plumber, which is in itself a fine comic idea as well as being a great set up for a funny film about the two women, later joined by a third in the scarcely believable shape of a second Mark-girlfriend, Amber (Kate Upton), teaming up to take their revenge on the love-rat. But if you’re anything like me you may be wondering how on earth did Carly know where Mark lived? 

Obviously, that is, he has had to arrange his life with great care in order to keep a wife and multiple girlfriends — we later learn that there are others besides Carly and Amber — without giving any of them an opportunity to find out about the others. Is it remotely likely that he would have made the elementary, boneheaded mistake of telling Carly where he lived in Connecticut or, if she engaged in some sleuthing to find out for herself — and there’s no indication in the movie that she has done this — of telling her he was going there for the weekend? Wouldn’t he much more probably have told her he was going to his cabin in the mountains, so far from anywhere that it had no address? But then Mark was created to appear to us exactly as he would appear to the women he has betrayed, and at the very moment when they feel most betrayed. In other words, he is utterly without any redeeming qualities. 

So of course he must appear here not only as a rat and (as it turns out) a crook but stupid to boot. He is so stupid, in fact, that he is utterly oblivious to the plot against him by the three women — even though Kate is putting hair remover in his shampoo and female hormones in his smoothies — until in the movie’s climactic scene they all confront him in the conference room at Carly’s law office. For just as Mark has to be a brainless mug, so she has to be a brainiac of a high-powered attorney, not to mention tough-as-nails — both things, I would have thought, a bit of a stretch for an audience familiar with Miss Diaz. Likewise, there appear to have been weeks if not months between the women’s discovery of Mark’s secret and this final moment of confrontation, and Kate is, to put it mildly, not very good at hiding her feelings. Is it within the bounds of ordinary probability that she could have refrained from tipping him off as to what she and the others were up to during that time? 

Well, OK. It’s just a movie, as someone once said. Nowadays, that means that we expect fantasy, so it has become rather beside the point to complain of how unlike reality a movie is, though it is otherwise presented as realistic. I suppose I should be grateful that there are no aliens, elves, or hobbits popping up. Yet I hope I will not be thought entirely perverse if I put in a good word for reality, even in the movies. Even today. For fantasies such as The Other Woman, like that of the mythical “war on women” being waged by President Obama’s political opposition, are really just another just another form of attempted seduction by men, since it shamelessly flatters women’s self-conception as eternally victimized by men.

True, the movie provides Carly — though not Kate or Amber — with someone who says he likes to think of himself as a good guy to pair off with in the end. This is Kate’s brother Phil (Taylor Kinney). “You can’t have my brother as well as my husband,” wails Kate mournfully. “That’s just greedy.” But Phil is, clearly, just the other kind of female fantasy which, however contradictorily, has always lived comfortably side-by-side with the victim-fantasy and reinforces it qua fantasy. Moreover, Amber gets paired off with Carly’s father (Don Johnson), who is in the process of his fourth divorce — from one of Carly’s sorority sisters. Clearly, he’s the guy Mark is on course to becoming, but nobody seems to mind about his sins against the phantom ideal of romantic love. Fantasy is generous that way, moving over and scrunching up to make room for the even more contradictory male fantasy — which Miss Upton represents from the moment she appears on screen, trotting up the beach in a white string bikini.

“This is so unoriginal, Mark!” cries Kate on seeing her. But later she comes to see things a bit differently. “I like that she’s super-hot,” she says to Carly. “I feel like she brings up our group average.” It’s the one moment in the movie where it allows itself to strike a somewhat realistic note, since it shows us women, even at their most hostile to mankind, still seeing themselves through the eyes of men. Likewise, Carly’s secretary Lydia (Nicki Minaj) responds to her discovery that Mark has a wife by saying: “And you don’t think you can take her?” I also liked Carly’s stern injunction to Kate, once they have become allies, to be, as it were, a man. “Cry on the inside,” she says, “like a winner!” — even though if the advice were heeded there would be no movie. Something more could have been done with these hints of a more serious intent behind the fun, which the best comedies always have. But I suspect that comedy these days already takes itself much too seriously to allow many such points of contact with reality. That’s because we’re afraid that reality itself is no longer funny.

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About the Author

James Bowman, our movie and culture critic, is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is the author of Honor: A History and Media Madness: The Corruption of Our Political Culture, both published by Encounter Books.