Months ago, I posted my very first “Watch For” about an upcoming Natalie Portman film entitled The Other Woman. With everything she had going on at the time, it definitely slipped under the radar. The Other Woman was only limitedly released, which explains why I didn’t see it until my mother and I stumbled across it in a redbox yesterday.
The trouble with this movie does not lie in its concept or its acting. Nearly every actor works wonders with the character he or she was given. Portman, who wooed me with her work in Garden State and Brothers but completely failed to affect in Black Swan, does quite possibly her very best work in this film. She is a master of the onscreen cry (seriously, it would appear she cries in every movie she’s ever been in), and The Other Woman is no exception. But instead of playing her usual innocent, Portman opts instead to play the bad guy in this situation. Her Emilia is a new associate in a law firm who steals away a partner (Scott Cohen) from his wife (Lisa Kudrow), with whom he has an eight-year-old son (Charlie Tahan). As if all of that wasn’t enough, the baby Emilia has shortly after her wedding dies three days later of SIDS–but
that’s not all folks Emilia thinks she accidentally smothered her newborn daughter.
That’s a lot of balls to have in the air. The concept of a movie told from the perspective of “the other woman” is a good one–and an excellent role choice for Portman. But the writing chooses intensely dramatic confrontations and yelling matches instead of exploring the subtlety the situation calls for.
Kudrow, for instance, erases all traces of Phoebe to play an incredibly bitter ex-wife. The woman is so bitchy that even though she should have our sympathy, it is impossible to feel for her. Emilia is cold and hard on everyone in her life, Cohen’s Jack isn’t written a lot of emotional range, and even the eight-year-old is pretty unlikeable.
It is puzzling how all the actors give such compelling performances when all of their characters are so hard to relate to. And it is a mark of bad characterization when someone dies in a movie and my mother does not cry.