Comic timing is a fine art that very few understand how to make work. It takes a certain finesse mixed with a specific rhythm that when done well can make mediocre material brilliant. This special skill is on full display in the new movie starring Cameron Diaz, a decent comedienne who’s upstaged in every scene by the criminally underrated Leslie Mann. Like Diaz, Mann got her first big break in a Jim Carrey vehicle and used that opportunity to propel herself into a variety of supporting roles in films headlined by her male counterparts, unable to join Diaz under that same A-list umbrella where she truly belongs. For all intents and purposes, if it wasn’t for Mann, The Other Woman would have been nothing more than the overcooked turkey in Christmas Vacation —deliciously vibrant on the outside without a ounce of substance on the inside.
Cameron Diaz may have top billing as the title character, Carly, but it’s Leslie Mann who spices up the proceedings as Kate King, the woman who finds out that her husband, Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is cheating on her with Carly. The scene when Carly drops by Mark’s Connecticut home to surprise him, only to learn he’s married, is probably the only time in the movie that Diaz shines. However, it’s the very next scene, when Kate goes to Carly’s office to confront her and has a mental breakdown that spins comic gold, that raises the bar so high, Diaz is ineffectual throughout the rest of the film.
The two woman bond over their shared experience of being cheated on by the same man and their desperate attempt to make him feel their pain, but Mann is what holds the entire relationship, if not the film, together. With her wry style and warm-hearted approach to her craft, Mann taps into a place that not many can go. She doesn’t just deliver her lines or perform pratfalls for the sake of a laugh, she reaches a place of meaning, way down deep within her soul, which allows her to add depth to her performance and create a genuinely sweet, sympathetic character that I honestly believed would not only seek to become friends with the woman who essentially broke up her marriage, but to seduce that woman into becoming her friend.
Diaz, on the other hand, plays everything, from her dialogue to the physical comedy, on the surface of the material, creating a character that seems strained and routine. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say it’s similar to a singer who sings from the throat and the nasal cavity rather than from the diaphragm and the gut. Neither one is necessarily better than the other, but because of the different sound and technique used to perform them, one is always going to be preferred. It essentially comes down to this — whenever Mann was on screen, I was constantly smiling with enjoyment; when she wasn’t, the film simply died.
Taking Mann out of the equation, The Other Woman is a hodge-podge of scenarios that never really go anywhere. From the semi-romantic subplot between Carly and Kate’s brother, Phil (Taylor Kinney), to the revenge scenarios on Mark, there isn’t enough substance to them to sustain them beyond moments of inconsequential set-ups. Even the massive dog that Kate is constantly carting around everywhere she goes is as pointless and annoying as casting Nicki Minaj as Carly’s secretary.
The end is a little lacking as well. The major event that everything seems to be leading up to is played out off-screen, only to be brought up in a summary later on — a scene that clearly works, but doesn’t have the same weight as what they could have had. Several other smaller subplots, like the obvious hook-up between Carly’s playboy father (Don Johnson) and Mark’s second mistress, Amber, as well as the fourth possible mistress in the Bahamas are essentially non-existent, and are really only there as after-thoughts to, what, make a point of what’s already been made clear?
I will give credit to Coster-Waldau, who handles every bit of physical comedy (including giant nipples, an unfortunate incident involving laxatives and a brutal climax) like a real pro, milking each moment for all it’s worth. He also does a fantastic job juggling from charismatic playboy to doting husband to the punching bag of his lady-loves. I’m not sure I can say the same for Kate Upton as Amber, who’s all gorgeous eye-candy and not much else. Together with Diaz and Mann, Upton is fine and quite cute in her ditzy-blond airiness, but she still comes off as too immature to be taken seriously as an actress. It may come in time, but she still needs a lot of work and dedication to make it happen.
Based on her performance and prowess as a comedian, I do hope that The Other Woman, no matter how faulty and lackluster the actual script was, helps Leslie Mann’s star shine bright, because if there is anyone who deserves to be on the same comedic level as the likes of Cameron Diaz, Melissa McCarthy and Amy Poehler, it’s Leslie Mann (especially after watching her brilliant scene in which she pretends that Diaz’s legs are her own… you have to see it for it to make sense). It’s only fair.
My Grade: B
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