‘The Other Woman’ cheats on its feminist premise

From left, Kate Upton, Cameron Diaz, and Leslie Mann in a scene from ‘The Other Woman.’
From left, Kate Upton, Cameron Diaz, and Leslie Mann in a scene from ‘The Other Woman.’

The Other Woman aspires to be Nine to Five without the workplace. Both are revenge-minded comedies involving three women who have had it up to here with the same man — in Nine to Five, it’s an abusive boss, in The Other Woman, it’s a philandering husband — and go to great lengths to turn the tables.

While 1980’s Nine to Five offered a female-empowerment slant in an era when women increasingly joined the workforce, The Other Woman settles for repeated close-up bikini shots of Kate Upton. So much for the film’s pro-feminist slant.

Besides Upton’s assets, the film stars Cameron Diaz as a successful New York City lawyer named Carly Whitten with the perfect boyfriend, Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) — with the notable exception that he’s married. Carly learns this troubling predicament after a surprise visit to Mark’s suburban Connecticut home while dressed as a sexed-up plumber. It’s his wife, Kate (Leslie Mann), who answers the door, thus beginning a strange friendship by the two women, as they bond over drinks and their mutual anger of Mark.

After her weak-link performance as a drug kingpin in last year’s twisty drama The Counselor by Cormac McCarthy, Diaz returns to her comedic wheelhouse of caustic characters. Diaz has a way with caustic characters and put-downs (see Bad Teacher), which is put to good use in this script by Melissa Stack, a first-time screenwriter.

But The Other Woman is really about the other actress.

In husband Judd Apatow’s comedies, Mann has proved herself as a fearless comedian, playing raunchy and vulnerable female counterpoints to the boy’s club shenanigans. In The Other Woman she also shows off her physical comedy gifts as well, particularly when Kate has too much to drink during her first night out with Carly, and refuses to get in the car to take her home, no matter how much Carly tries. It’s part Goldie Hawn and Lucille Ball.

Mann’s Kate is funny and sweet, surprisingly prone to housewife cliches. She rarely shaves, and she’s just not that into sex anymore. She confesses to Carly that it takes her a week just to get ready for the deed. Naturally, she’s horrified to learn how frequently Mark and Carly hook-up. The film’s subtle but obvious message is that Mark wouldn’t be wandering from Kate if she spent more time with him in the bedroom.

Carly is Kate’s opposite: a smart, driven professional who’s made a nice life for herself without a man.

But there she is with Kate, tracking down and stalking Mark’s other girlfriend, the younger and drop-dead gorgeous Amber (Upton), and chiming in with cracks about Amber’s body, particularly her naturally large breasts.

But the cattiness is put aside as Amber, also a victim of Mark’s lies, joins Carly and Kate in their mutual anger society. And so the deceived women find ways to make his life miserable: estrogen in his smoothie, Nair in his shampoo, laxatives in his drinks, which leads to a rather public humiliation, a la Bridesmaids.

The Other Woman

Directed by Nick Cassavetes.

Written by Melissa Stack.

A Fox release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.

Rated PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, sexual references, and language.

Running time: 109 minutes.

Critic’s rating: **

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Don Johnson, Nicki Minaj.

More than eye candy as the handsome husband/boy friend, Coster-Waldau displays keen comedic timing and a gift for physical humor as Mark gets his. And just to make sure we don’t feel sorry for the philanderer, Mark is also involved in a shady financial scheme involving millions of dollars, which fits too neatly into the plot. The film’s karmic justice of his actions, however, is a tad overzealous and nasty.

Still, Mark fares better than the other male roles in The Other Woman: Carly’s male cougar father (Don Johnson), whose sole purpose to the story, apparently, is to give advice to his daughter and end-film gags; and Kate’s handsome brother, Phil (Taylor Kinney of TV’s Chicago Fire), a contractor who quickly connects with Carly, much to Kate’s displeasure.

“You don’t get to sleep with my husband and my brother,” she tells Carly.

As much as the comedy works to build Phil and Carly’s budding relationship, there’s nothing between them to suggest anything other than sexual attraction. Kinney’s dull performance — like an attractive corpse, without the charisma— doesn’t help.

Typically in comedies, it’s the female characters who are underwritten and underserved. The Other Woman reverses the trend.

But that’s about as far as director Nick Cassavetes (2004’s The Notebook) is willing to latch onto the feminist message. Having dead weight like Upton only makes it worse.

Casting the supermodel may have been a studio marketing decision — bikini bait for male audiences — but given Upton’s blank-eyed delivery as a blank-eyed young woman, Amber falls into another stereotype. She’s voluptuous. She’s vacuous. In other words, breasts and brains don’t mix.

Nine to Five decried such stereotypes. Nearly 35 years later, The Other Woman celebrates them.

That’s progress for you.

Contact Kirk Baird at or 419-724-6734.