I read a review in the NYT of The Other Woman (the 2014 movie) that made it sound so bad I simply had to see it for myself. I finally got a chance to rent it last night, and now that I’ve seen it, there’s something I need to get off my chest. The pun, which will become apparent below, is acknowledged but not intended.
The story is, basically: insecure Connecticut housewife Kate King (Leslie Mann) finds out her husband Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is cheating on her with gorgeous lawyer Carly (Cameron Diaz), so she befriends Carly and the two of them plot their revenge on Mark. Then they find out he’s also fucking a sweet young thing named Amber (Kate Upton), so they recruit her into their circle and involve her in their scheme to ruin his life.
I was told the movie was offensively sexist, only occasionally funny, and that the man at the center of this revenge scheme was “charmless.” I simply had to see the movie just to see if it was possible to make Nikolaj Coster-Waldau seem charmless. I can’t believe that unless I see it for myself. The movie was nowhere near as bad as I was told to expect. Granted, I thought the jousting dwarves on Game of Thrones were hilarious, I was laughing right along with Joffrey, so my sense of humor is not such a good example, but I found The Other Woman to be, for the most part, a good piece of mindless, slapstick entertainment. I’d say it’s moderately sexist rather than offensively so. The writing is surprisingly clever; not quite strong enough to convince me of Kate and Carly’s need to go out of their way to find Amber, but it sold me on the idea that it would not be sufficient to send Mark pictures of the three of them dancing together on a beach in the Bahamas. No, he’s a dishonest, unethical piece of shit and he needs to be punished. I’m with them there. If the movie was trying to make Nik C-W seem charmless, they failed miserably; the character is despicable but the performance is perfectly charming and funny. I can see why these three attractive women would become sufficiently invested in him to get angry enough to plot their revenge when they learn of his infidelity. I didn’t like Nicki Minaj’s character, and I’m even more troubled by the fact that the only person of color with any substance in the movie is so incredibly obnoxious, but she does have some funny things to say. It’s well-acted all around. Diaz and Mann are hilarious together, and Kate Upton is perfectly likable. It’s not especially thoughtful or original comedy, but it’s plenty entertaining.
There was just…this one…part, where I found myself unable to turn off my brain and enjoy the ridiculousness. It was plenty ridiculous, but it failed at being funny. It was disturbing, excessive, and not amusing, and this morning I finally figured out what it was about that one scene that grossed me out so hard.
The wife and two ladies on the side begin playing vicious pranks on their man to make him suffer for his cheating and lying, and one of the angles they take is to attack him through his sense of vanity. Which is fine; a man does not stay that handsome at that age without making a concerted effort, and he certainly enjoys the way women respond to him, so of course he’ll be upset if he begins to lose control over his appearance. Kate puts Nair in his shampoo! Of course he’s upset when he sees his hair falling out and doesn’t know why, but we know it’ll grow back. Kate starts adding estrogen supplements to his smoothies! Funny, right? I will admit that it seemed funny enough when all we could see was Kate reading the warning label on the bottle.
Then one day he’s in the shower and notices the effects. He runs downstairs, wrapped in a towel, and brings Kate’s attention to something going very wrong with his body. He’s growing boobs! His nipples are hugely distended! He has no idea that his wife is responsible for his sudden gynecomastia (and in case you’re wondering, the actor looks like the makeup department slapped a pair of fake nips on him, but otherwise he does not appear to be growing tits), but he needs to show her what’s going on. There’s this sequence of them poking and prodding at his chest and using really obnoxious language to describe the changes, and that’s where I just could not be amused. It was cringeworthy, and not funny. It wasn’t quite as gross as the sort of shit that goes on in Ben Stiller movies, but it was bad, I did not like it, and I would have preferred not to see them do that.
There’s another sequence, in which Carly does to Mark what Stifler does to Paul Finch in the first American Pie movie, only Mark does not make it to a toilet in time. I thought that was hilarious, and if anything, the situation shows us what a tough nut these women are trying to crack. You would be hard-pressed to find a person alive who would succeed in handling a pants-shitting episode as competently and gracefully as Mark gets through that evening. That image of him returning home in his new bright red pants still makes me smile. Once again: I have a juvenile sense of humor. I am the kind of person who thinks jousting dwarves are funny! Why is it that I thought the pants-shitting incident was fabulous and amazing, while the nip-pinching scene was horrible and disturbing?
I finally figured it out mid-morning today. I’ll tell you what it is about that scene that made my skin crawl.
There’s a certain amount of disregard for bodily autonomy baked into any revenge comedy. Putting depilatory in someone’s shampoo is a minor act of assault. Putting extra-strength laxatives in his drink without his knowledge is a somewhat more serious act of assault. Putting hormones in his breakfast is an especially serious act of assault. There’s something immutably funny about a one-off incident of pants-shitting. The victim goes home, gets the laxatives out of his system, puts on clean clothes and feels better. Putting estrogen in his breakfast smoothies, though, long enough to make him grow tits? First of all, the wife is humiliating her husband by feminizing him, and we’re expected to laugh along with it. That shit is sexist, but maybe I could laugh along with the femininity-as-humiliation angle if they simply arranged for him to wake up in a dress and padded bra. He’s a sexist pig, though a very handsome pig, so they know that being made to look like a woman would be an upsetting experience for him. But to take that humiliation to the level of his bloodstream? Fuck with his hormonal balance? To a great enough extent to alter the shape of his body?
Now that is one of those lines you do not cross. You do not alter someone’s hormonal balance without their consent. You do not do that to a woman. You do not do that to a man. You do not even do that to a man who has wronged you. And you do not treat this level of assault as comedy.
Ugh. No, no, no. Don’t do that.
There. That’s what I needed to get off my chest.