For much of its first act, The Other Woman plays like an attempt to revive the talky, sexless sex comedies of a bygone era. The sketchy plot, involving a housewife who bonds with one of her husband’s mistresses, is brushed off-screen to make room for quippy circular chatter. Compositions consist largely of blank space; interiors are designed in neutral grays and whites, which makes nearly every scene look like it’s set in a hospital. It’s more mildly classy than clever, and the way the film glamorizes its characters’ shoe closets and fancy cars hearkens back to a time when studios understood that just because people wanted to see upper-middle-class life, it didn’t mean they related to it on a personal level. Then, all of a sudden, a spotted Great Dane squats in the middle of a Manhattan apartment and out plop several gleaming, glistening CGI turds. It’s one of those cases where a Hollywood movie inadvertently summarizes itself in a single shot.
The Other Woman’s floor-soiling Great Dane is the one-two of its second half, which find newly minted friends Carly (Cameron Diaz) and Kate (Leslie Mann) joining forces with second mistress Amber (Kate Upton, whose ditziness is signaled by a shot in which she tries to look through a pair of binoculars backwards) to exact revenge against Kate’s husband in the name of some broad, test-audience-friendly notion of empowerment. Said revenge plot consists of pumping him full of laxatives and hormones and fooling him into consenting to a threesome with a bearded drag queen. There are some fart sound effects, transphobic punchlines, and a Cronenbergian long take of serial cheater Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) yawlping and yawling as he shits his brains out in a bathroom stall, but not much in the way of comedy. The result is tolerable only because of Mann’s performance as the manic, fidgety Kate. The actress is of above average height, but looks tiny next to Diaz and Upton. Showing a real knack for physical comedy, she plays up her comparative smallness, contorting and bending herself while Diaz and Upton remain poised.
Incidentally, The Other Woman goes out of its way to point out that Amber and Carly are not technically mistresses, because they didn’t know about Mark’s marriage to Kate, and that real consenting mistresses are the absolute scum of the Earth. This kind of prudishness quickly becomes irritating. The tame opening stretch—with its focus on unlikely friendship—feels transgressive in comparison to the bodily dysfunction-centric later scenes, which reiterate the same stuffy (and patronizing) points about monogamy and the importance of finding the right man. Somewhere around the 60-minute mark, director Nick Cassavetes—whose career makes one wish that John Cassavetes had been a better father—pushes the movie into Tyler Perry territory, with the final third playing as a tone-deaf mixture of wish fulfillment, punishment, and bawdy innuendo.