Review: Leslie Mann struggles valiantly but can’t save the rotten ‘The Other Woman’

While I can't say “The Other Woman” is a good movie, I can say that it features at least one thing that is genuinely worth seeing.

The film that I kept thinking of as I watched this one was the Colin Higgins mega-hit “9 To 5,” with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton teaming up to kick the living crap out of their chauvinist boss Dabney Coleman. While I'm not sure I'd feel like that film held up if I saw it now, it tapped a very potent sense of simmering outrage. It was a well-timed shot across the bow in the cultural conversation on changing roles for women in the workplace.

“The Other Woman,” on the other hand, is a largely ridiculous look at crappy rich white people who seem to have nothing to worry about besides what they do with their naughty bits. This is the feature debut of screenwriter Melissa Stack, and it strikes me as so resolutely phony from beginning to end that I'm not sure who the target audience is supposed to be. It doesn't help that Nick Cassavetes seems to have a real problem with maintaining a tone over the full running time. This thing swings from broad gross-out comedy to something that seems to be struggling to be a reflection of real life, and it never establishes a baseline reality. It is a strange misfire that is only saved from being a complete disaster by the efforts of the film's two leads.

Cameron Diaz stars as Carly Whitten, a lawyer who is so successful that she's able to work a grand total of about three minutes in the whole film. She is dating a guy who seems to be her perfect match, Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Everything seems to be going great until she decides to surprise him at his home in Connecticut one night, only to come face-to-face with Kate (Leslie Mann), Mark's wife. While they are understandably at odds at first, they both are so angry at Mark that they end up becoming unlikely friends, especially after they realize there is another woman, Amber (Kate Upton), in the mix as well. Stoked by their righteous anger, they set out to bring Mark down and teach him a lesson.

Fine. In the broad strokes, it seems like pretty familiar territory, but in the execution, I thought it was almost insufferable. I grow weary when I'm watching movies about rich people and their problems. Everyone in this movie exists in this bubble where they can fly to other countries and miss weeks of work and somehow still maintain their multi-million-dollar apartments with no trouble. It's not an inconsequential decision, either, because it strikes me that the only person who can pull off this sort of massive deception as a lifestyle is someone who can afford three houses and who routinely has an excuse to simply not show up at his house. The personal stakes for everyone involved are fairly low, too, since it's not like Kate and Mark have kids together.

Here's what works: Leslie Mann. I think Cameron Diaz is a very capable comic performer, and given the right character, she's been able to do some great work in the past. She's handcuffed by the script here, though, and no matter how hard she tries, she's not able to turn Carly into an engaging lead. From the moment Mann arrives in the movie, though, things almost get interesting. She is beamed in from another movie, and Mann's able to make Kate memorable with the big choices she makes. Watching her melt down or watching her go out and have a girl's night or watching her turn into a vengeful ninja, she attacks every scene in unexpected ways, and she makes Kate seem like a fully-realized person. I wish the entire movie was on par with the work that Mann does, and she seems like the one person who was able to take what was on the page and turn it into something alive. If I was giving out the letter grade just based on her work, I'd give it an “A.”

Here's who I feel bad for: Kate Upton. Considering this is a movie that is supposedly about empowering these women who were done wrong, Upton spends a startling amount of time nearly naked. I get it. She's a swimsuit model. She is a very pretty young woman. But if she's just used as eye candy here, it feels like they're pandering to the guys who are going to join their dates in the theater. More than that, though, I just don't think Upton can act. It feels like they tried to write her some character quirks to make her a weird character to counter-balance her looks, but Upton just doesn't have the ability to turn the lines on the page into an actual character. She looks like she knows it, too. She seems much happier when all she has to do is stand on a table and gyrate or put on the little bitty white bikini again. It feels like pure exploitation, casting a famous person for who they are, not what they can do, and every time she's required to play a scene, the movie grinds to an awkward halt. It doesn't help that she's playing her scenes with Mann, who can't make a bad choice, and Diaz, who may not have a great role here but who at least knows how to hold her place in a scene. This may be the first time in her life that Upton is pretty much completely invisible, but I blame the director and whoever cast her, not Upton.

Nicki Minaj may have a future in film based on her presence here. I'm not sure I really buy her as a character, but she's charismatic and she looks like she's having fun. She also pushes back in her scenes with Diaz, unintimidated by her co-star's experience. Don Johnson shows up as Carly's dad, and all he has to do is smile and turn on the charm. Johnson's settled into his persona nicely in the last few years, and the film could have used more of him. Taylor Kinney, playing Kate's brother, does a nice job, but he's in the wrong movie. He's playing everything real and low-key and recognizably human, all good choices, but with everyone else playing this big cartoony kind of reality, it doesn't mesh.

It's the kind of movie where after at least of the scenes in the film, I wanted to yell, “CUT! Let's try that again from the top, and this time, let's all pretend we're making the same movie.” It's the kind of movie where they try to do silly slapstick but they play it wrong so that it just looks horrifying and painful instead of funny. At the end of the film, Coster-Waldau suddenly seems to have a stroke and, for no real reason, starts walking though sheet glass repeatedly, ending up looking like a victim in a “Saw” movie instead of the bad guy in a sex comedy. I get that you want to give him a comeuppance, but it doesn't work at all.

This irritates me precisely because I'd say to anyone who likes her work that Leslie Mann is on her game in a big way here, and I'm glad I saw her work. She deserves more leads, and she makes such interesting choices here that I feel like Cassavetes and Stack owe her an apology. She brought her A-game, but no one else was able to do the same. When people say they hate “romantic comedies,” it's because of films like this where there is no real understanding of romance and no real laughs.

“The Other Woman” is in theaters now. Avoid it.