Someday, sooner than its producers would like, “The Other Woman” will appear on video and on Netflix, where some clerk will dutifully file it under the romantic comedy section, when it is in fact neither.
But wait, you say. It has Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann and Kate Upton laughing on its poster — why, that’s got to be at least a couple of laughs inside, right? That might in fact cover it, actually. There’s an unintentionally funny moment after Diaz, playing a sharky attorney, learns that her new steady boyfriend is in fact married, to a vulnerable, voluble stay-at-homer played by Mann. They make this discovery in fact when the mistress blithely arrives at their front door dressed like a hooker/plumber. The wife later presses the issue, and they start to bond. Before you can say “odd couple,” the mistress swerves more “Lethal Weapon.” Fending off this needy new friend, Diaz blurts, “I’m getting too old for this s***,” and that’s worth a chuckle. We’ll throw in two more laughs for kicks, though their provenance escapes me in hindsight.
Something big and unpleasant happened to this movie in its conception that it never overcomes. Here’s a guess. The premise is mind-blowingly awful, and runs like a warped male fantasy of what would happen if the disparate loves in his twisted life ever intersected. (It’s a little surprising to find that a woman, first-timer Melissa Stack, wrote this hash.) The moment when, after their initial come-to-Jesus conversation, over drinks, when Mann, staggering out to a waiting towncar, gets floppy-drunk huggy with Diaz, even craning backwards to kiss her neck. And this after finding out they’d boinked dozens of times over several weeks. Who are these people, and why are they behaving this way?
There’s a problem when the only plausible character in a story is the scumbag. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (a.k.a. Jaime Lannister from “Game of Thrones”) is a wolfishly handsome two-timing financier, as quick with a lie as he is with a hello. He, at least, evinces a modicum of motive, rooted though it is in sociopathic tendencies. Coster-Waldau ain’t a bad actor, so watching his comeuppance veers toward the jejune is embarrassing. Once his wife and his paramour team up (make that plural, once the twosome find and turn Upton to their side) the indignities overflow. Weaponized laxatives, hair remover in the shampoo bottle, estrogen pills in the morning smoothie — it’s a teenager’s version of revenge carried out by 40-something ladies in Connecticut and the Hamptons, a Farrelly brothers movie hopped up on Chardonnay.
All of this would be perfectly serviceable if not for the heap of attempted pathos that director Nick Cassavetes dumps in. Mann actually plays this for laughs — she’s the funniest thing in the film, by far — but manages to pull off some dignity for her character. To find suddenly that a spouse has been leading a shady double life would be a crippling experience for anyone. The script puts Mann in the position of having to experience that trauma while clowning sufficiently to keep the sap quotient low. It’s an impossible balance to attain, but Mann, with her strange mix of rabbity energy and emotional bruising, makes an admirable effort. It’s almost as if no one pulled her aside to cushion the blow, by letting her know the movie she’s working so hard in is actually doomed to mediocrity.