Doomed film sees light of day

By Drew Hunt

Initially completed in 2009 and originally titled “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits,” “The Other Woman” is Natalie Portman’s de facto follow-up to the much-lauded “Black Swan.” In the film, she stars as the wayward Emilia, a newlywed grieving the sudden death of her infant daughter while attempting to win the affection of her husband’s 8-year-old son Will—played by Charlie Tahan. Making matters more complicated is Jack’s embittered ex-wife—played by Lisa Kudrow—who consistently denigrates Emilia and labels her a homewrecker.

One of the more interesting aspects of “Black Swan” was the way Portman’s character Nina—and Nina’s delusional push and pull between a pair of polemic personas—reflected the actress’s career to date. Despite some brave efforts in films like “Closer,” the actress is often pegged as a daintily timid entity. However, Aronofksy’s psychosexual thriller sees Portman diving head first into grittiness and physicality completely unbecoming of her character’s virtuous demeanor.

This change of style left a considerable imprint, which was evident in her recent receipt of a Golden Globe Award and her imminent Oscar nomination. “The Other Woman,” with its mawkish premise and aimless direction, should do little in the way of curbing that buzz.

Writer/director Don Roos does little to elevate his film above the level of mere melodrama. Despite the seemingly high stakes he presents, Roos consistently fails to hit the marks he should be striving for. The end result is nothing short of lazy, somewhere in the realm of a Lifetime TV drama. One of narrative storytelling’s main functions is to answer the question: “Why should we care?”—as in why should we, the audience, invest ourselves emotionally and intellectually into the characters and story presented to us.

For this film, Roos clearly doesn’t have an answer to that question. Aimless introspection is all he offers.

Quite possibly—or rather, most assuredly—the only reason the film receives theatrical distribution is an attempt to cash in on the buzz surrounding Portman and her performance in “Black Swan.” “The Other Woman,” with its absurdly rigid characterization and lack of thematic resonance, wouldn’t stand a chance at seeing a wide audience otherwise.

However, thanks to “Black Swan,” we have the benefit of hindsight. Despite the film’s many flaws, Portman stands out as the single bastion of conviction in “The Other Woman.” Her performance is brimming with effort—but not the kind of effort that suggests a strain on her behalf to save a sinking ship of a film. Rather, it’s a workmanlike approach and an earnest attempt to inject some real emotion into a lifeless character.

For all its complacency, “The Other Woman” is occasionally quite provocative. Class and social structures are explored in refreshingly frank ways and Portman’s young stepson’s existential musings on the afterlife are, too. In the film’s climax,

Portman reveals the source of her discontent to be her guilt regarding her daughter’s death, which she blames on herself—and for good reason. While clearly an accident, the film sheds enough ambiguity on the situation to suggest Portman may have held her daughter a little too tightly while they slept in her bed one night.

Yet these moments are few and far between and never attain even an ounce of reflexivity. Still, Portman evokes a sternness that the film’s other actors can only hope to muster. In a backward way, this would-be failure actually bolsters Portman’s performance in “Black Swan.” Her ability to do so much with so little is a testament to the remarkable strength she can bring to the screen.

Of course, she is set to star in what is sure to be the absolutely God-awful “Thor,” Marvel’s latest contribution to the continual dumbing down of American society. So who can be sure?