The Other Woman – Critical analysis out of step with contemporary thinking. (Film Review)

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I wasn’t going to review this film, or watch it, but this weekend it outsold Captain America against all expectations in the States, and I felt the financial gesture of the female public was too strong for a (sometimes) feminist perspective film reviewer to skip, particularly given Cate Blanchette’s appeal for a round earth perspective on the return value of backing female lead driven films. As of this review, the film is well on its way to doubling its forty million dollar budget, despite it’s overwhelming poor reviews, as opposed to Captain America (a film I stopped watching half way through out of fear I would die of boredom) which received overwhelmingly positive reviews, had a one hundred and seventy million dollar budget and is currently looking at a seven hundred million box office haul (just over four times its budget). It makes no sense that this film would out sell Captain America on its second week (only Captain America’s third) a film that is more than quadrupling its budget. So, given those stats, The Other Woman outplaying Captain America under these circumstances is noteworthy, and drove this reviewer into the cinemas to see what all the fuss is about.

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So it’s the First Wives Club (another film that was hugely panned by the critics, that became deeply loved by women – this woman included – and ended bringing home more than six times its budget) all over again with some crucial modern differences, such as the inclusion of the “young mistress” and a bonding between the females all duped by the cheating male, not just the jilted wives. The question I was interested in mostly here was the apparent disconnect between critical analysis and the obviously all female audience, and how something as dumb as Captain America (which besides being dull is released too close to all those other tedious Marvel comic films)  can solicit such positive serious reviews and The Other Woman receive the exact same reviews The First Wives Club received eighteen years ago. Obviously these films are striking a chord with female audiences, and yet they are still being judged by their feminist quality, their realism (!) their ability to appropriately analyse infidelity and their refusal to approach the subject matter with the PC rules – all judgements that are out-of-place in critique of a film such as this. Also, to anyone with their eyes open, The Other Woman is not – in title nor in content – about infidelity, it is about the ability for women to meet and find each other when stereotype separates them, and it is, just like The First Wives Club all those years ago, a film that leaves stereotype behind it.

I’m not suggesting this is a great film, nor that it is as funny as it should be, but it is subversive in certain depictions of its three leads, particularly in a scene, appropriately on a beach at sunrise, the dawn of a new day, when the women hold each other in the maternal embrace. The three leads depict a unique kind of female friendship, one that genuinely includes an existent care that has been maligned by misogyny. When Kate King (Leslie Mann) approaches Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz) to talk, claiming she has no one else in her world, this is a closer to the truth of the female experience than is culturally appropriate – the appropriate response is for the women to pour their hate into each other – but as Carly so properly clarifies “We got played by the same guy.” The films aesthetic recognises that female competitiveness over males is primarily a tactic of misogynistic control, and directly subverts this assumption. If the ultimate fear of The First Wives Club was that the wife will wake up and take her revenge, then the unspoken fear of The Other Woman is that in finding each other, the role of the male in a woman’s life will be substantially reduced.

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Franky the outpouring of hate for the film alone, should inform us it is subversive. The three leads do their best to make something of a choppy script, but for a feel good piece of fluff, it is consistent, amusing, and extremely gratifying for women – all the same ingredients I would apply to “boy-power” films such as Iron Man 3 and Captain America, each of which were treated with a generosity that far outweighed the films quality. Why is this? Why do we turn a blind eye to the stupid, poorly written “banter” between Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff but we reserve the most vicious critical hatred for Carly and Kate’s “Best night ever?” Line for line, seen through the “boy-power” lens, each had their fair share of cheese, and their lapses from realism, and yet Captain America is praised for its up to date politics (!) and The Other Woman panned for its stereotypes. If ever there was a stereotype that needed to be buried and never, ever resurrected, it was Captain America.

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I propose the most upsetting aspect of The Other Woman is the, frankly inspired presence of Kate Upton. Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann are over forty and “meant” to appear in “man hating” films, but not Kate Upton, a woman famous solely for her ability to fulfill a male fantasy. Her role in this film is a great casting choice; she is of an age when she “belongs” to men, she is at the prime of her ability to rely on “feminine wiles” to get what she wants, and yet she openly chooses women friendly when she should be playing a bond girl, or Natasha Romanoff. It is an act of pure brilliance on Upton’s part, and will endear her to many women, when she is culturally pitted as the ultimate enemy. If you are looking for a contemporary female refusal of a stereotype, this is one of the most profound you will see in 2014. It is the presence of Kate Upton, and her reclaiming into the female fold, that I suggest is the biggest stereotype upset in The Other Woman, and makes this film sit uneasy at best and downright intolerable at worst for many critics and viewers alike.

The Other Woman (2014) (Screengrab)Cameron Diaz

But all that aside, in the world of critical analysis, it “Its Time to get with the times”. If we are going to pan girl power films such as The Other Woman, then we need to get real about boy power films like Captain America; conversely, if we don’t want to appear too stodgy about our films and if we’re willing to embrace low-brow pleasure films, then we need to recognise that judging films on male satisfaction not is not the ultimate test of a good film. Look around at the women, are they having fun? Are they laughing out loud (as so many of the women in my screening did)? Then it might be you who is missing something crucial here.

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