By Preston Wilder
The woman I am, the woman I’d like to be, the woman I don’t have a clue how to be. Or, if you prefer: the good, the bad and the sex symbol. Leslie Mann is the good, the good wife who put her career on hold to support her husband’s, the good person who’s trusting, vulnerable, somewhat accident-prone, surprisingly tough when forced into a corner. Cameron Diaz is the bad, the ‘bad girl’, hard, cynical, unabashedly promiscuous. Kate Upton is the sex symbol, seemingly designed for any stray males in the audience (her role is admittedly smaller than the other two): 22, cartoonishly pneumatic, none too bright – but good-natured, and happy to bond over white wine and girly giggling.
There’s a lot of female bonding in The Other Woman, bolstered by the most over-active soundtrack in recent memory (‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ is in there, of course). There’s also some grossness, which is par for the course these days: a slobbery Great Dane does a poo in Cam’s pristine apartment, and the faithless husband/boyfriend (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is brought low by a combination of hair remover, estrogen-spiked drinks and, quite graphically, laxatives. (Remember when the noisy toilet humour in Dumb and Dumber was considered outrageous? It’s filtered down to fluffy girly comedies now.) He deserves it, of course, being a lying cheating bastard – though in fact he’s a sex addict rather than a bad person, one of the ways in which the film is slightly (very slightly) more thoughtful than expected.
The Other Woman is no-one’s idea of a great movie – but it’s a crowd-pleaser and, to be honest, it could’ve been worse. Nikolaj doesn’t cover his tracks very well, making up some story about a blocked drain in his house in Connecticut – so Cam turns up, plunger in hand, and runs into Leslie, who puts two and two together even while refusing to believe it. Did you have sex more than once? she asks Diaz desperately. Maybe 50 times, comes the reluctant reply. “You had sex with my husband 50 times? Don’t you have a job? Or hobbies?”
Leslie’s the wife, Cam the Other Woman though she doesn’t actually know that the cad is married (Ms. Upton is the other Other Woman, met on a beach later). Cam is “perfect”, with a well-appointed life, a high-flying job as a corporate lawyer and a cynical approach to relationships: even if you find Mr. Right, she shrugs – which is obviously not going to happen – “it’s just a matter of time before someone gets bored and unhappy”. Monogamy, in a word, is unnatural. Leslie, on the other hand, is happy being devoted; she loves her husband, and “they had something real” despite his cheating (we see them talking tenderly of their old apartment and the life they’ve shared; another of the film’s thoughtful wrinkles). She’s also a kook, liable to flutter and fall into hysterics, the opposite of Cam’s steely admonitions to “get your ducks in a row”. Inevitably, wife and unwitting mistress become “the weirdest friends ever”.
Speaking of weird, there appears to be some confusion when it comes to women in Hollywood movies. Kids’ cartoons are absolutely ruthless in passing the message that girls are just as good as boys, and probably better; Frozen, now the highest-grossing cartoon of all time, is actually the tale of two girls finding love in each other, as opposed to boys. Yet films for adult women, written by adult women, seem torn between which version of Woman to privilege – the confident, sexually voracious careerist, the decidedly un-feminist needy wife (who comes this close to staying with her husband, even when she knows he’s been unfaithful) or even hot-bodied Kate, who’s so flawless even her sweat smells amazing. Will tomorrow’s women, weaned on Frozen, be a lot more ruthless? Or will they just discover, as they grow up, that things aren’t so simple?
The Other Woman is aimed squarely at groups of girlfriends but I reckon men might like it too, or at least they won’t be bored. It’ll do absolutely anything for a laugh – from the slobbering of the aforementioned Great Dane to a grotesque, spyhole-cam shot of Ms. Mann to a faux-thriller interlude set to the theme from Mission: Impossible – which is why it never feels like it’s hectoring. Don Johnson turns up as a randy dad, Nicki Minaj draws blood as Cam’s randy secretary whose worldview is as hard as her boss’s (“Selfish people,” she advises, “live longer”), and no film whose central trio refer to themselves as “The lawyer, the wife and the boobs” can be hated too vigorously. “Don’t come at me with your weird little man-logic!” warns Leslie, on the brink of yet more hysterics. Ma’am, I wouldn’t dream of it.
DIRECTED BY Nick Cassavetes
STARRING Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
US 2014 109 mins