The Other Woman (2009)

The Other Woman has a few minor plots that all have difficulty getting enough time to be properly told. There are at least three of them that are always fighting for screen time, and the result is that none of them feel fleshed out enough to feel like they have enough meaning. The overarching story is fine and there are definitely scenes with meaning — ones that will make you feel something — but the film is too busy and inconsistent to achieve greatness.

We are introduced to a couple of our characters in the film’s opening scene. (This also happens to be the best scene in the entire production, doing something that no other scene manages to do — be funny). We meet Emilia (Natalie Portman), who is picking up her stepson Will (Charlie Tahan) from school. The two are constantly bickering, leading to some sharp and quite humorous dialogue. They don’t seem to like each other, or, to put it a better way, he doesn’t like her, while she seems to be trying her darndest to get him to. Their relationship is the first of many subplots to come.

We soon meet Will’s father, Jack (Scott Cohen). He’s a lawyer, and we end up with a 15 minute flashback telling us how the two met, how their relationship started and, most importantly, how they had lost their child after she had only been alive for three days. Coping with the loss of this child is another one of the subplots that Emilia has to deal with. We learned in a flashback that Jack was married at the time he met Emilia to Carolyn (Lisa Kudrow). She’s a spiteful human being, spewing out insult after insult whenever she and Emilia appear on-screen together. (And several times when it’s just her too).

But we can’t really blame her for being bitter; Emilia did instigate the break up of her marriage after all. Even though most of the attention in the film is centered on Emilia, it’s Carolyn who actually warrants the sympathy of the audience. Her husband is the one that cheated on her, so it kind of makes sense that she’s resentful and angry all of the time. On the other hand, Emilia blames everyone else for her problems, hypocritically at times, I might add, and uses the death of her child as an excuse to snap at people whenever the film starts to lose steam. Or maybe that was director Don Roos’ “clever” plot device, my mistake.

Ultimately, this device works. Whenever there is just cause, Emilia snaps and we get some excitement. We sympathize with her because she lost her child, but also condemn her for some of the actions she’s done in the past. She’s definitely a flawed character, and that’s part of what made this movie somewhat entertaining. It felt real, and considering the divorce percentage right now, it very well could be reality for some couples.

The smartest decision that was made in making this film was to cast a very annoying child actor to play William. This kid was supposed to be 8 years old, but he acts as if he’s in his early teens. He’s well-spoken and too smart for his age, which makes him insufferable. A lot of child actors are annoying, and it seemed like the filmmakers were aware of this; getting over the annoying child is one of the bigger plots of the movie. He’s certainly a character that you want to see smacked, and seeing his parent having to restrain herself makes for an interesting watch.

But there end up being far too many different plots that all have to be resolved by the end. This means that none of them actually get the time they deserve in order to make an impact. It also means that things feel rushed just so that the plot can move along. Characters seem to always make decisions on impulse, they don’t ever spend the time to sit down and talk about their problems with one another — and any time they do, they yell them and then leave — and the film just loses a consistent tone and pace. There’s something to be said about sticking to your guns and not going overboard. Here, we go way overboard in terms of content.

Even the performances weren’t great. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t bad, (except the one by the child actor, but I suspect that was partially intentional), but it just seems like everyone is always moping around. While it isn’t a happy film most of its runtime, there are moments of levity that the audience gets that the characters don’t seem to be clued in on. There will be a moment where something good happens, but nobody smiles, instead just sitting there pouting like they do for most of the time. It would have been nice to see the actors throw forward more than one emotion, even if most of the time, their sadness is justified.

The Other Woman isn’t a terrible film, but it’s undone by the fact that it tries to cram far too much into its runtime. There’s too much going on for us to actually absorb anything from the multitude of subplots. The drama isn’t bad, and it was nice to see an annoying child in a movie actually treated that way by the characters, but the film felt too rushed by the end. Impulsive and often too-sad-for-their-own-good characters ultimately left the film feeling too cold to warrant a watch. I still can’t say I disliked it, but recommending it wouldn’t feel right. Call me “torn” for a final verdict, but don’t go seeking The Other Woman out.

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