Even more so than some of her peers, Cameron Diaz has drawn a sharp, jagged line between the one-for-me-one-for-them movies she makes. Yet I’m also unsure, sometimes, whether her “me” movies are her often-serious, sometimes-uncomfortable roles in movies like Being John Malkovich, Any Given Sunday, Vanilla Sky, Gangs of New York, The Box, and The Counselor; her big studio comedies and dramedies like In Her Shoes, What Happens in Vegas, The Holiday, or What to Expect When You’re Expecting; or (more likely) a mix of the two. Her biggest recent hit, Bad Teacher, offered a rare synthesis her disparate sides. It’s a broad comedy, to be sure, but as a defiantly unfit middle-school teacher on the hunt for a rich husband, Diaz transcended the obvious Bad Santa parallels; her character’s petulance was so undisguised, so thoroughly herself, that she became winning.
There’s an angularity to present-day Diaz that her newest comedy, The Other Woman, takes some though not full advantage of. Diaz is playing a familiar romantic comedy type, the go-go working woman of the world who dates a lot but hasn’t landed The One, only the movie isn’t really a romantic comedy at all (and, indeed, flounders a bit when trying to offer the rewards of one). When her Carly meets Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), she thinks this might be it. Then she finds out, a little later than the audience does, that Mark is married to Kate (Leslie Mann). Distraught, Kate approaches Carly and essentially strong-arms her into friendship. Together, they discover Amber, another mistress—a genetically engineered super-mistress, really, in that she is played by Kate Upton (presumably in lieu of CGI). The three women decide to plot revenge, although The Other Woman is less of a shticky revenge comedy than has been advertised. It’s more of a sweetly awkward buddy comedy, mostly between Diaz and Mann because Upton doesn’t really have a character to play, and seems dropped into the movie only when convenient; she’s not cruelly caricatured as a ditz because she hasn’t been drawn at all.
The relationship between Carly and Kate is where Diaz’s less bubbly side comes in. Carly doesn’t exactly have the chance to be sardonic, but she’s both sweet and sour, trying to help the spurned wife while also trying to keep her distance. Mann was obviously hired for her facility with finding the specific neuroses in disgruntled wives, and has probably been given a little too much leeway here: she gets multiple tearful “um”-filled rambles and a ton of nonsensical screaming and kicking with Diaz. Every four or five non-sequiturs, one of Mann’s lines will hit the desired absurd-naturalism bullseye (“I get strong when I’m mad!” she cries, warning Diaz during one conflict), but unlike underappreciated comic filmmakers like Mann’s husband Judd Apatow, director Nick Cassavetes doesn’t appear to exert much control over the comedy, and the punchlines are imprecise. A few scenes toss in bizarre slapstick, like a laxative-based sequence that seems out of another movie entirely—and pretty much is, considering how often movies have gone there.
To its credit, The Other Woman focuses on the messiness of three women trying to get mutually satisfactory revenge more so than the revenge itself. That accounts for the messiness of the movie itself, which places it far below Diaz’s best films. But if more broad studio comedies had at least this much humanity, not to mention this willingness to focus on women not necessarily falling in love (it’s the first adult-lady-dominated wide release movie since Tyler Perry made a movie last month, and the last one before that was, uh, maybe Gravity?), maybe Diaz wouldn’t so often find herself working on two different sides of that line.