Tens of thousands of people – under no threat of violence or incarceration – lined up this weekend to see Nick Cassavetes’ latest rom-come-on-now, The Other Woman. These numbers should make us concerned. It’s not just that The Other Woman is stupid – in all honesty, I tend to like anything that looks easy and attractive (see: dating years, 2001-present). It’s that it’s really, really, stupid, and an insult to the women it’s trying to serve/profit from. Like Sex and the City and First Wives Club before it, The Other Woman belongs to an unfortunate category of movie I like to call the “girlfriendz genre;” glorified tampon commercials where upper-class women in upper-class pantsuits enact softcore revenge on their cuckolding husbands. And while Sex and The City is occasionally funny and The First Wives Club is relentlessly perfect (hold your comments please. I know I’m wrong on that one), The Other Woman is neither clever nor smart nor coherent. It’s a West Elm catalogue and Dido-inspired soundtrack that merged brands, crossed mountains, and joined together in a heroic effort to steal $24 million dollars of our money – last weekend alone.
In the opening scene of The Other Woman, Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz) and Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are on a Bloomberg-era hotel roof, staring into each other’s eyes, drinking upscale vodka-crans, and discussing their favorite rich people topics (I’m guessing money/cupcakes/anal). It’s a fantasy landscape we see throughout the movie, a world where poor people have been eradicated, robber barons falls in love, and life comes in Crate and Barrel shades of grey. But trouble begins to brew when Mark refuses to meet Carly’s father, so Carly decides to dress up as a sexy plumber (no joke, that’s her “plan”) and show up unannounced at Mark’s Connecticut home. Carly has no idea that’s he married, so when King’s wife Kate (Leslie Mann) opens the door, Carly falls back shocked into the hedge, in the process, breaking both of her heels (nooooo! Stop! Comedy tragedy tears!) I don’t know who told Diaz that she’s “good at physical comedy,” but I feel like that’s the kind of thing you tell people who are “good at nothing else.” Unfortunately, PG gags like this one dominate the remaining one hundred/one hundred million minutes of the movie, and the audience has no choice but to sit quiet and wait for their promised jiggly boobs montage.
Wait they will, because the second half of the movie is actually dedicated to the mysterious/illogical friendship that develops between Kate and Carly. Upon realizing that her husband is cheating on her, Kate shows up to Carly’s workplace and makes repeated, desperate attempts to befriend her, claiming Carly is “the only one who can understand” what’s she “going through.” I’m sorry? At this point in the movie, I wanted to jump through the screen and shout: “Not the mistress! Call a therapist! Join a meet-up! Read a message board!” Alas, I didn’t, because: (1) upper-body strength and (2) it wouldn’t matter anyway. See, the women in The Other Woman aren’t actually real women with thoughts and feelings and logically coherent motives and drives. They’re sloppy plastic bottom-of-the-cereal-box toys developed by their sloppy plastic creator-of-The-Notebook director, Nick Cassavetes. So it makes complete sense that Kate is able to befriend Carly and the other mistress Amber (Kate Upton), because she’s not a real person, capable of feeling regret, despair, the basics of human logic.
Kate and Carly quickly form a friendship over wine and Boston Market (respect) and hatch a plot to undermine King. While Carly is cold, stoic, and rational (emphasized by her Columbia Law School diploma and her Ayn Rand-inspired wardrobe), Kate is flighty, neurotic, and dumb. There are times when her neuroticism feels charming in a Diane Keaton kind of way, and other times when her ditziness kinda/sorta comes off as brain damage. Still, the two manage to overlook their differences in the name of revenge, and come up with some pretty legit pranks to undermine Mark. These ideas include: feeding him laxatives (no!), serving him estrogen (bwa?), and setting him up in a threesome with a trans-woman (I mean are these ladies geniuses or what?). For all the time Kate and Carly spend together, their conversation never, ever drifts from their relationships with men.
A recent study by film professor Martha Lauzen showed that in the top 100 grossing films of 2013, only 15% of the protagonists, 29% of the major characters, and 30% of the speaking characters were female. This at a time when women make up both the majority of the population and the majority of movie-going audiences. So it’s particularly upsetting when directors like Cassavetes capitalize on this untapped market and use it to promote their rich girl power agenda, a worldview that conflates “well-worded sass” with “female empowerment” and tries to suggest that Cosmopolitans are still cool to drink in 2014. And now that I’m hatin,’ I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that Nick Cassavetes is the son of genuinely great actor and film director John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence, Gloria). Every day I pray for a world where famous people give birth to less embarrassing babies.
At some point in The Other Woman, Kate expresses to Carly that she’s concerned about breaking up with her husband and reentering the dating pool. “I know you think it’s really bad out there,” Carly tells her, “but it’s actually way worse.” For a second, I laughed, before I realized: Hold-up. You’re Cameron f*$&^%* Diaz. You’re playing a wealthy hot lawyer in wealthy hot Manhattan and if you can’t find someone, it’s probably your own damn fault (Side note: I recently swiped right for a seventy-year-old lesbian with two I’m sure glass eyes, so I’m feeling a little sensitive right now). While it may seem like a small point, the whole scene is emblematic of the movie’s larger failures. Movies like The Other Woman choose to appeal to the most primitive American fantasy – our desire to live in a world where everyone is clever and wealthy, where the hardest choice we have to make every day isn’t what mouth to feed or what bill to pay but which Ivy League boy we’re gonna date (I say Yale. I mean, have you seen Harvard’s A capella team? Sucks. Balls).
When I went to see The Other Woman, I chose Brooklyn’s own Court Street Stadium Cinemas, a theater that feels less New York, more Sodom and Gomorrah. To clarify: I’m pretty sure that at least 70% of their staff needs to be on suicide watch and once when I went there I saw a nice old lady fall into a trash can. Accidents aside, I chose the theater for a reason: when I see nonsense like The Other Woman, I want to be surrounded not by overeducated film critics but by my fellow children of Cain. At some point during the movie, a woman who had been talking at full decibel volume throughout (respect), got up from her chair, shouted “You girls are insane!” at the screen, and left (I think to go to see Heaven is For Real. Well, she had her moment). But truer words have never been spoken. Ultimately, The Other Woman is very much an insane movie: a story that is less meaningful than it is meaningless, less empowering than it is insulting, less funny that it is cruel. 109 minutes long, and jiggling we could all find for free on the Internet.
Heather Dockray is a comedian and storyteller living in Brooklyn, NY. You can see more of Heather’s work at www.heatherdockray.com, follow her on twitter @Wear_a_helmet, and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you aren’t from Moveon.org.