Tuesday, August 30, 2011

DVD Review: The Other Woman

The Other Woman ** ½
Directed by: Don Roos.
Written by: Don Roos based on the novel by Ayelet Waldman.
Starring: Natalie Portman (Emilia Greenleaf), Scott Cohen (Jack), Lisa Kudrow (Carolyn), Charlie Tahan (William), Lauren Ambrose (Mindy), Michael Cristofer (Sheldon), Debra Monk (Laura), Mona Lerche (Sonia), Anthony Rapp (Simon).

Natalie Portman is the only reason to see The Other Woman – an ultimately, even she is not quite reason enough. She gives a complex performance as a woman who you would think would immediately have our sympathy, but does not. She plays Emilia, who is trying to get over the death of her baby months before. Yet Portman, along with writer-director Don Roos (taking the lead from the Ayelet Waldman novel), do not make Emilia immediately likable or sympathetic. Quite the opposite really. She is brittle and cold, cynical and sarcastic, always outwardly putting the blame on everyone around her, while inwardly directing it all at itself as it slowly eats away at her. She is caught in a spiral from which she really cannot find a way out of. It truly is a wonderful performance. It’s just too bad that everyone around this character is so generic and uninteresting – one dimensional to say the least. Had Emilia inhabited a world that seemed real, The Other Woman could have been a great movie.

Emilia has more issues other than the death of her child. She is married to Jack (Scott Cohen), but started the affair with him when he was still married to Carolyn (Lisa Kudrow), a cold hearted bitch if ever there was one. He only left Carolyn upon discovering that Emilia was pregnant. Now, Emilia also has to deal with her 8 year old stepson William (Charlie Tahan), whose every word seems directed to hurt Emilia, even as he asks them innocently enough. Carolyn is still furious with Jack for leaving her, and even more furious with Emilia, and she does everything possible to make their life miserable. Emilia’s rather support system is pretty much just two distant friends (Lauren Ambrose and Anthony Rapp), and her mother (Debra Monk). Emilia is still furious with her father for cheating on her mother – repeatedly, and it irks her to now end that he is the only one in her family that William genuinely loves.

At the heart of every scene in the movie is Portman, who it should be said is terrific. She has the guts to make Emilia as cold and distant as she should be, almost daring us to hate her. And yet, it is still a very human performance. She is a woman under a tremendous load of grief, and pressure, almost all self inflicted, and she simply cannot function anymore. She punishes everyone around her, pushing them away, when she really wants them to come closer, but cannot seem to ask. Immediately sympathetic she isn’t, but real she is.

But everything else in the movie feels fake. Jack is an almost absence presence, even when he’s onscreen. Scott Cohen brings nothing to the roll whatsoever. Lisa Kudrow is stuck playing what is essentially a caraciture of the bitter, mean first wife. She’s so one dimensionally evil, she’s only a small step away from Cruella Deville. As for Charlie Tahan as William, the writers seem to have fallen into the trap of making him a little adult, rather than letting him be a kid. He does seem to be going for the jugular with his comments to Emilia – and it’s no wonder she hates him.

The movie starts off okay, but as the movie progresses, and revelations come out, and people turn out to be not quite as evil as we thought, the whole thing just felt staged and phony to me. All of a sudden, I am supposed to buy Emilia and William bonding? That Carolyn isn’t an evil demon from hell? It just doesn’t work. And that’s too bad, because Portman is great in the movie. Unfortunately, she’s the only thing in the movie worth watching.

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