Saturday, August 16, 2014


I sit through a lot of bad movies just to watch Leslie Mann. This includes her husband Judd Apetow's shrill comedies, and even some horrible thing where she played Matthew Perry's wife. I keep hoping she'll someday find a script and director worthy of her considerable charm and talent. It hasn't happened, yet. The Other Woman, which was a surprise hit this year, certainly wasn't the screwball classic for which her talents are begging. I grow impatient.

She plays Kate King, a ditsy but good-hearted housewife whose husband Mark ( Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is having an affair with Carly (Cameron Diaz), a New York lawyer. Kate finds out, and because she's such a hopeless case, can think of nothing else to do but befriend Carly. Carly doesn't want any part of her, but after witnessing Kate's helplessness, she becomes Kate's reluctant gal pal.

Together, they eventually learn that Mark even has a second girl on the side, a bubbly young beach nymph played by Kate Upton. Quicker than you can say "The First Wives Club," (or "Nine to Five") the three angry females join forces to bring the bad man down.

As always, Mann delivers. She's genuinely touching in the scenes where she's heartbroken, and is believable as a sheltered woman who has no idea what the world is like beyond the bubble of her home-life. Diaz, who has never been a particularly gifted actress, is less interesting. She lumbers around in a body that seems to be growing larger every year, flashes her enormous teeth, and falls down a lot. Upton's beach girl could have been played by any blond actress under 22.

The script by Melissa Stack starts out with promise, but it's as if she stopped halfway through and gave it to a mean-spirited child for polishing. What could have been a realistic story about a woman dealing with her cheating husband ends up mired in crude, thoughtless slapstick. Stack's script is neither helped nor hampered by Nick Cassavetes' utterly artless direction. (There's actually a scene where the women dance to 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun.' For such a hoary cliche, Cassavetes should be stripped of his union card.)

If that's not bad enough, the movie suffers from a distinct lack of reality: characters drink to excess, but never experience hangovers; Diaz falls from rooftops, but never gets hurt. Hell, I can appreciate a cartoonish movie, but even Wile E. Coyote ended up in a neck-brace once in a while.

There are glimmers of a good movie in between the silly stuff, which just adds to the frustration. A scene where Mann drowns her sorrows in whipped cream and vodka while her giant dog looks on had the panache of an old Jean Harlow, or Carol Lombard film. In a scene where Diaz tries to put a drunken Mann into a taxi, Mann shows an almost lizard-like physicality, scampering around the street, playfully avoiding Diaz' grasp. This is the one scene where the slapstick works, with Mann briefly channeling the spirit of Gilda Radner. 

There's another scene where Mann shows up at Diaz' apartment with her Great Dane, a comely brute named "Thunder." The image of frail little Mann and the big dog is ripe with comic possibilities. In a way, I wanted an entire movie of Mann and the dog going on an adventure. But what do we get? The dog shits on the floor.

Jokes about dog shit are not enough. One of the women spikes Mark's drink with something that makes him shit his brains out in a restaurant. Was this supposed to be the scene we all talked about when we left the theater? Mann also tortures him by putting estrogen in his food so he grows breasts, and replaces his shampoo with a hair removal product. Apparently, the ultimate revenge for a jilted wife is to turn her husband into a bald woman.

Diaz, who has top billing, never really seems like a lawyer. She wears a power suit, and folds her arms when she's supposed to look serious, but her performance has a summer stock amateurishness to it. The character is only a lawyer because the script needs someone to catch Mark in an illegal activity. That way the women can take over his business and get rich, and the ladies in the audience can feel like they've seen something empowering (before they go home to their own cheating husbands).

The film's success last spring is baffling. It's not a good movie. Leslie Mann is good enough to make you think otherwise, but the movie is so dumb that it doesn't even acknowledge the mountain of difference between a wife losing her husband, and a woman losing a boyfriend of eight weeks. Mann deserves better than this.

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