The Other Woman (2011)

The Other Woman portrays strong, conflicted women, delivers, falters, succumbs to lukewarm.

Writer-director Don Roos’ slow boil drama The Other Woman makes a strong case for the attractiveness of flawed relationships, yet the action falls short of titillating and the director makes a mess of melodrama.  The story feels incomplete, undone and limited by a lack of emotional complexity that weighs otherwise effective performances.  I would have enjoyed seeing this film in more capable hands; I can almost image what Wong Kar-Wai might have done with the simmering mood of indifferent mothers and sons, the brilliance of layered, nearly touching opposites pushed into dark room corners and rooftop endless sunsets. Pedro Almodovar would have at least made the personalities ring true, the perspectives not so much different but silvery-thin and distinct moments caught in glances, in the nervous and entwined fingers of a child caught between feuding mothers, the inept husband longing for the other woman until he finds her in his bed and can’t make out what to do with her.  That’s where the potency of this film lives and breathes; it’s a shame Roos’ never even entered the room.

The Other Woman is most notable for Natalie Portman and is worthy viewing for her work alone.  Lisa Kudrow is noticeable, though shallow, one-dimensional, the single setting on an emotional dial stuck on angry; not even pissed off.  It is Portman’s understated glances that work best at scraping away the most dead skin from tired hands, the sort of resolve earned from living that fuels the portrait of the downward spiral of a young woman thrust into the maelstrom of family matters without ever really coming to terms with the role.  It’s painfully almost there.  She does give us inviting, charisma, vulnerable – the perfect heroine poised, like we sometimes are, as targets and lovers for the burden and tiny rewards from children and men.  Kudrow plays a decent enough foe, even when her relentless assaults feel overdone and absurd. She is inappropriate if not mechanical.  Her performance is reminiscent of Julian Moore in that it often doesn’t entirely make sense, the vitriol so coarse we can never fully connect with the character in a meaningful way – it just always feels like the actor playing the part of the result rather than choking on the air in the story.  The Other Woman might be most interesting in these heated exchanges if not the quiet; you’ll have to make up your mind if story can live under such circumstances.

The film charts the course of a young Harvard law school graduate, Emilia Greenleaf (Natalie Portman) whose infatuation with her older, married boss Jack (Scott Cohen) sets in motion a series of events that have far-reaching, catastrophic consequences. Their affair kicks off an avalanche, a slow mountain slide that simultaneously begins their life together, complicates Jack’s relationship with his son, and dissolves his marriage with his first wife, Carolyn (Lisa Kudrow). Carolyn, whose singular distaste and disappointment with her life manifests in bitter, biting confrontation with Emilia. She takes the upper hand and poisons William against Emilia and in the ensuing months that follow, Emilie loses her baby and deeply damages her marriage with Jack. Things crumble soon thereafter as Emilie slips further and further into depression and her isolation is underscored by rocky relationships with William and her father. After all that progress, what ultimately slows the avalanche to a near crawl is the sluggish, somewhat lackadaisical plot where the characters meander, rooted by indecision or worse – the uncertainty of the director

Roos’ describes this story as an examination of a young woman’s relationship with her stepson and the baggage, frequently misplaced that comes with marriages and divorces. That might work from a distance where the story gathers momentum in our imagining of it, but the trajectory is off and we lose sight of the goal as though rockets in this world don’t run on the same stuff as ours, frequently unidirectional, levied at the wrong targets. The problem with peripheral warfare is the absence of blood, the failure at penetrating deep-seated passion; we feel too far away to care, too close to feel what happens to them because we’ve seen this airy stuff too many times on bad television situation drama. The result is unrequited relationships in a film that wants female empowerment through ownership of emotions, however flawed and in disrepair, yet delivers characters abandoned from knowing what they lived through or ever benefiting from having lived it.

The closest we come to success in this film is in momentary snapshot performances, in the possibility of a  Ménage à trois with truth, passion, and ambition.  It’s too bad we’re kept at a distance, voyeuristic verisimilitude is no substitute for the real thing.   

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About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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10 Responses to The Other Woman (2011)

  1. Brother.I have not had the chance to see this film..YET..But in future.I posted your brilliant and indepth review on line on my wall in facebook if that is okay.James

    • rorydean says:

      Do let me know when you get around to seeing it. It’s a powerful film that operates on many levels, some subvert, others overt – the result is the sort of film I wish we saw more of in main stream outlets if for no other reason than to bookend the otherwise big budget and airy flicks flooding the market – I’m not saying remove them or do away with them, just give us more of a variety, especially those that make you think and explore and want to know more about the quiet places that lives inside us where are dreams and nightmares wage nightly battles for the top sheets.

  2. Nostra says:

    Saw this a while ago and did find it very interesting. It took a bit too long before it became clear what was going on, but did like the fact of Portman’s character trying to be accepted by her stepson. It was very recognisable. I agree with you Miss it recommendation….

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks for the visit Nostra — I just popped over to your blog and enjoyed reading your work. I’ll see you again soon. It was interesting that this film didn’t make more of an impact here in the States given Portman’s high visibility around Black Swan – then again, dark dramas about dysfunctional families rarely get wide stream attention here unless something clicks like Kings Speech, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine (though admittedly none of those were really that dark). Cheers-

      • Nostra says:

        Yeah, saw you popped over and saw that my link is to the dutch version of the site, you can find the english version at http://myfilmviews.wordpress.com, saves you some translation!

        This movie didn´t get that much attention here either, it´s a tough sell here as well…

      • rorydean says:

        Thanks! I did find the translation service by google interesting when I visited your dutch site. I’m curious how much it will get wrong and equally how much it will further the conversations in directions perhaps unintentionally. I’ll see ya around. Btw, do you know the website film portal Mubi? You can find me over there here -> http://mubi.com/users/381491

  3. I half-watched this one night while I was typing my review of Sucker Punch – it was the wife’s choice of course. I have to say, this wasn’t the most pleasant film to witness, it’s so dark and depressing without much of a “bright light” at the end either – human tragedy makes for uncomfortable, if not always enlightening viewing.

    For the first time in a while, we’re in agreement about a film! I’d also advise readers of this blog to skip “The Other Woman” – although here in Australia it was known as Love And Other Impossible Pursuits, which is also the title of the novel this film is based on.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Rodney — thanks for the note about the title. I sometimes forget the titles get changed in translation, or whatever, and while I do like the title you got I remain unsatisfied overall with this film. It just had so much opportunity and the payoff was so disappointing I don’t think I could scrape together the good bits to have enough positive to say to someone interested in watching it. Perhaps later, after the experience of the moment wears off.

      Yes, dark and depressing but what could have been the star in the dark was the relationship between the step-mom and the son, especially with Portman. Great line too – human tragedy. Indeed! I usually refer to films like Love Liza and My Life Without Me for those really deep, dark, personal kick you in the gut films. And it is strange we haven’t agreed more. I suppose it has more to do with the films we’ve been watching. cheers-

  4. Nostra says:

    The translation probably did an alright job I guess. I know about Mubi, but only used it once to watch that short movie that was free about kids in the suburbs, which was excellent.

    • rorydean says:

      Perhaps the translation works OK. I’ve seen it make a shambles of things, especially it seems with poetry and otherwise obscure language. Mubi is great for film enthusiasts, sort of like Facebook without the BS and sense of self worth – though any time you’re sharing your life on line there tends to be a nebulous zone between necessary and foolhardy. I mean there are just some things we don’t need to know about one another. cheers-

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