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★★✩✩✩

The Other Woman

Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Starring Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Rated PG-13

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Cameron Diaz stars in the new comedy The Other Woman as Carly, a no-nonsense, successful Manhattan lawyer. We know she is successful because both her apartment and corner office feature floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing spectacular, geographically implausible views. Also, she has pretty shoes. Carly is dating a seemingly perfect guy named Mark. He is perfect, the film tells us, because he has great hair, sometimes sends flowers, and has what looks to be a very expensive watch (and no apparent need for a day job). Carly’s nicely ordered life is overturned, however, when she unexpectedly discovers that Mark is actually married, and, even more unexpectedly, strikes up a friendship with his wife Kate (Leslie Mann) and his other mistress Amber (Kate Upton).

Naturally, the women bond over plotting to take down the man who wronged them all. This is not a new concept (in fact the sisterhood-of-the-traveling-revenge-pact is something of it’s own cinematic subgenre — see Thelma and Louise, Nine to Five, and The First Wives Club). Actually, I’m pretty sure I saw this exact movie before, back when it was called John Tucker Must Die, and, you know, it was set in a high school.

Which, incidentally, is exactly where this kind of a movie belongs. Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for broadly comedic female-centered revenge-fantasies, and even for the occasional girls-can-play-as-dirty-as-the-boys bawdy raunch-fests like Bridesmaids. It’s just that talented actresses like Diaz and Mann, and I suspect Upton as well, deserve better than this, and it’s a little hard to watch them portray adult characters who run around New York doing such outrageously juvenile things.

The film has its moments, and I genuinely did laugh out loud once or twice, but that’s really a testament to the comedic timing of the two lead actresses and not really a credit to the film itself.

Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann prove themselves, once again, to be skillful and very appealing comediennes. Mann’s zany energy and pleading neediness wonderfully temper Diaz’s coolness and tough pretty-girl edge, and both actresses showcase their talent by playing so well off one another. Kate Upton is actually adorable in her ditzy bit. Also, Nicki Minaj shows up as Carly’s sassy assistant! And she’s funny! But the movie, sadly, fails to meet any of these talented ladies on a level that’s worthy of their talents.

Director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, My Sister’s Keeper) keeps the pace moving, but the disjoint editing does the film no favors, and the tonal shifts are confusing. It’s hard to buy Kate’s insane takedown antics and simultaneously accept her as a thinking, feeling human being experiencing the deep pain of watching her seemingly happy marriage fall apart, but the film futilely asks you to buy it anyway.

If you have any intention of thinking about this film for a minute longer than it takes you to finish your popcorn and soda combo, then things will start to turn darker for you, as the film’s disturbing subtext comes into focus. The major offense of a movie like The Other Woman is not that it’s a bad comedy — a designation subject to varying tastes. It’s that this is fundamentally an irresponsible movie.

It pretends to be making a point about the self-reliance of modern, city-dwelling women who can be just as fulfilled without a romantic partner, and yet it completely reinforces the values its so gleefully purports to subvert. Carly is smart and independent, and yet she’s not whole until she learns to embrace the traditional dimensions of femininity as represented by Kate’s nurturing domesticity and Amber’s sensuousness. Only when the three come together do they become the ‘perfect’ woman and (spoiler alert), finally find their happily-ever-after.

Worse yet, any possible solidarity among the women is only constituted when they have a mutual man-enemy to fight, and not some other kind of common goal to work toward together. Speaking of which, the extent of their collective takedown of Mark is so extreme that it deprives the viewer of the opportunity to even mildly share in the enjoyment of his comeuppance — it’s not enough for Mark to be humiliated and mocked, or simply called out as a cheater, which the audience could have gotten on board with as fair play. Instead, the film insists on physically breaking him down beyond the point of all reason, going so far as to become downright uncomfortable.

But then on the other hand, if you set out to watch The Other Woman as a silly slapstick, girl-power comedy — which is an equally valid approach — then that’s what you’re going to get, nothing more and nothing less.