There are some actors and actresses who cause you to wonder why they aren’t bigger stars. You wonder why you have to point out that person’s previous films and characters when your friends and family ask, “What would I know them from?” These performers are too talented and too under-appreciated, and you know they’re the best when they turn middling material into a movie worth watching. Leslie Mann is such an actress, and she single-handedly saves The Other Woman. A mostly forgettable picture becomes memorable thanks to her cute, goofy, incredibly endearing performance that manages to elevate a not only a stagnant script but also one-dimensional characters.
Carly (Cameron Diaz) thinks Mark (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) is a serious boyfriend material, and goes to his home one night to surprise him. However, Carly is shocked to discover that Mark has a wife, Kate (Mann), and the two women become unlikely friends as they bond over being betrayed by Mark. When they decided to spy on him, they discover another one of his mistresses, the bubbly Amber (Kate Upton). When Amber learns about Mark’s true nature, she’s just as stunned as Kate and Carly. As the three women commiserate, they decide that instead of feeling bad and betrayed, perhaps they should get some revenge.
The Other Woman wouldn’t work half as well without Mann because everything surrounding her is so lackadaisical. Diaz is contained to wearing a scowl for most of the picture as Carly is the embittered cynic designed to play off the sweet and naïve Kate. However, because the script demands for Carly to find love, we have to spend time watching her make googly eyes at Kate’s brother, Phil (Taylor Kinney), who’s the perfect man because he builds things, isn’t a jerk, and doesn’t have much in the way of a personality. Meanwhile, Amber is just a big smile, bigger boobs, and a blank slate. It’s not a demanding role for the Sports Illustrated model, but she acquits herself well at smiling and looking pretty.
They’re all thrown together in a plot that constantly sputters and awkwardly teeters between a PG-13 and R-rated comedy. The big turn isn’t that Carly and Kate become friends; it’s when Carly and Kate meet up with Amber and decide they might want to be proactive against Mark. Until then, it’s a lot of flip-flopping on Kate’s part both with her feelings towards Mark and her friendship with Carly. This pacing drags on as the trio plot their revenge in petty ways. They gave him their hearts, and when they were broken, they gave him laxatives. Coster-Waldau may be handsome and debonair, but comedy isn’t his strong suit.
For all of its faults, nothing in Nick Cassavetes film can stop Leslie Mann. The movie lights up whenever she’s on screen. Mann makes Kate absolutely adorable, and she also gets the best jokes. She’s the comic relief in a movie that’s ostensibly a comedy. More importantly, she has the range to make us care about Kate as a real person rather than a scorned woman. It turns Mark from being a cad into someone who’s truly hurtful. Carly and Amber will rebound, but it has real emotional stakes for Kate, and Mann nails the drama with the same force as the comedy.
Mann is a shining, warm center that makes everything in the movie brighter. Where every other character is shallow and unremarkable, Mann gives Kate some depth. Carly and Amber can write off Mark, and so their retaliation amounts to nothing more than spite. But the story and Mann understand that marriage is a different ballgame, and that kind of hurt doesn’t lead to a problem that can be resolved with a few pranks. Kate’s belief that she can make things with Mark work may be misguided, but it isn’t dumb. Mann’s performance makes the character’s stalling understandable and even a little sad. That modicum of pathos is important in a movie where a dog craps on Carly’s floor and the film feels the need to show the dog crapping.
I know I’m raving about Mann, but without her, The Other Woman would be somewhat unbearable. It’s a movie that doesn’t think it’s weird for Carly’s father Frank (Don Johnson) to give her tips on how to seduce her boyfriend. There’s a lot of clutter and sloppiness to the plot, but it doesn’t seem to matter as much when you have Mann bouncing around on screen. As Carly says at one point, “It’s best not to think about it. As long as it works, it doesn’t matter why.” That’s an odd philosophy for a woman who was dating a lothario, but in the case of The Other Woman, you don’t have to think about it too hard. It works because of Leslie Mann.