Directed by: Don Roos
Premise: A woman (Natalie Portman) copes with the loss of her infant daughter. Her grief is complicated by challenging relationships with her step-son (Charlie Tahan) and her husband’s ex-wife (Lisa Kudrow).
What Works: The Other Woman is a difficult film in that it asks a lot of the audience. The film reverses the convention of the evil step-mother and makes her the lead character, played by Natalie Portman. Although the film intends the audience to empathize with her, Portman and the script don’t make it easy to cheer for her or even like her. Portman’s character is in many moments self centered, coarse, and lacks parental instincts. What the film manages to do is allow those shortcomings to humanize the character and there is something raw and honest about Portman’s performance as she struggles to be the mother and wife that others expect her to be. Aside from Portman, the other impressive performance is given by Charlie Tahan as the son. Tahan is precocious, which is common of young characters, but the film also captures the insensitivity of innocence, and Tahan does a great job pulling at the audience’s sympathies as a child navigating the nuances of the grown up world.
What Doesn’t: While Portman and Tahan are impressive, The Other Woman leaves a lot of the backgrounds of its supporting characters empty. The flashback of Portman’s character falling in love with her husband (Scott Cohen) does not have much heat or passion to it and the film never makes a convincing case that he would leave his wife for her. The Other Woman is also troubled by a sexist undercurrent. The filmmakers seem too smart and too aware of Hollywood gender roles to let this slide by and yet the film barely comments upon some obvious double standards between the male and female characters and their sexuality. All the female characters are ill tempered harpies who drive the men in their life away or forgive them for betrayals. The implicit message of the film is that the suffering of women in relationships is the fault of the women while the men are just bystanders. This flaw is exacerbated by the film’s clumsy handling of its Freudian themes and in the second half The Other Woman begins hitting the subtext on the head. When that happens the film gets overwrought with pathos that betrays the reality and texture of earlier scenes in the movie.
Bottom Line: The Other Woman is a difficult and flawed film but it is also an interesting one. It is certainly an antidote to many of the romantic comedies that have been released lately and viewers who enjoy pictures like Closer, Rabbit Hole, or Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore may find something worthwhile in this film.
Episode: #332 (March 27, 2011)