Nick Cassavetes delivers a farce with The Other Woman that, like the cheater at the core of the film’s narrative, struggles to maintain several identities at once. After Manhattan lawyer Carly (Cameron Diaz) discovers her boyfriend, Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is married, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with his wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). And when it’s revealed that he’s having another affair, the new pals recruit the third squeeze, Amber (Kate Upton), and vow to get even.
Watching Carly and Kate’s so-called “weirdest friendship ever” blossom from awkwardness to genuine camaraderie is enlivened by Diaz and Mann’s strong rapport. The characters’ dynamic is built on shared fears and insecurities, including the perils of dating at a certain age; their pickings from what Carly calls the “shallow puddle of age-appropriate men” are slim. While Carly might be the titular other woman, it’s Kate that dominates the film. A walking, pastel-colored conniption fit, the frantic housewife bounds around with fearless nervous energy, and Mann dives into her role with infectious enthusiasm. Diaz, meanwhile, mainly serves as the voice of reason, armed with plenty of quips, but little in the way of a character arc. Carly has a romance with Kate’s brother, Phil (Taylor Kinney), but it’s trite and underexplored. And the rest of the supporting cast doesn’t fare much better: Coster-Waldau’s Mark is never anything more than a skirt-chasing cad, while Don Johnson appears in a couple of gratuitous scenes as Carly’s sage but lecherous father.
Halfway through The Other Woman, Cassavetes damningly shifts away from Carly and Kate’s odd but endearing friendship in order to craft an aggressive and mean-spirited revenge farce. Carly, Kate, and Amber resolve to pool their efforts to sabotage Mark’s life at every turn, leading to a montage of the ladies spiking the guy’s protein shakes with estrogen and putting hair-removal cream in his shampoo, all to the sounds of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” There’s even an overlong bathroom sequence that hinges on a drink spiked with laxatives, and a particularly groan-worthy three-way joke. Because the film isn’t consistent enough in its tastelessness, these juvenile gross-out gags are never truly shocking, and in the end simply feel out of place.
The story gives us hints of the sexual politics underlying its main characters’ scheming. When Kate suggests that one member of the group has sex with Mark, it becomes a question of who’s going to “take one for the team,” leading to a game of rock-paper-scissors between the Wife, the Mistress, and the Boobs, as the women call themselves. But the filmmakers end up rewarding the characters more for their organized acts of malice than their friendship. When Kate and Carly tout binoculars to stake out Mark, their attempt is given the full Mission: Impossible treatment, complete with Lalo Schifrin’s theme music. This all leads to the three women coming face to face with Mark, who self-destructs as Carly and her cohorts relish the damage they’ve wrought. In the end, The Other Woman is clearly wary of either being too saccharine or taking itself—or the notion of compulsive infidelity—too seriously, though its schadenfreude is unwavering.