In our first guest post, Laura Tansley takes on The Other Woman. Marketed as a film about female friendship and empowerment, what can we really learn from this revenge-rom-com?
When the adverts for The Other Woman began appearing on the telly, and Cameron Diaz started showing up on chat shows and behaving a little oddly, first of all I thought, oh good Leslie Mann’s getting some mainstream work. Good on her. Then I thought, have they spelled the title wrong? It says ‘woman’, right? But there are three of them on the posters? And then my boyfriend asked, why does it take three of them to take down one man? So I watched The Other Woman hoping for some empowerment, for some femi-bonding and expecting some solid laughs. Let me tell you, it’s a pretty stunning film. Stunning like you’re walking down the street, checking your phone, then you walk in to a bus stop window. And it’s 1950. I wish my questions had been answered more positively. Instead I got a lesson that suggests that women really are bad at maths. Oh The Other Woman, let me count the ways thee offended me. Literally.
One is the Loneliest Number, Except for Half of a Whole
Cameron Diaz is Carly-the-lawyer; she’s all smug and satisfied because she’s got a hot man and a long ol’ pair of legs and a good job and she’s so busy she has to drink coffee out of a travel cup. She’s living the dream! Nicki Minaj thinks Carly doesn’t need a job because she’s so pretty, but whatever, Carly likes the challenge and the lifestyle. Cause she does one of them smart jobs, you know, like a judge or something. And she’s got this flippin’ enormo office in a well-tall building so the audience knows to think, coo, I wish I was like her. It’s standard aspirational bullshit.
But Mark, her hot man, has a wife: Kate-the-home-maker. She’s ditzy but she’s fun. She’s real fun to hang out with because she’s a bit ditzy and she might drink too much. And she might suggest a business idea called ‘Brain Camp’ where people sit about and do Sudoku. Got it? She’s played by Leslie Mann. Carly, the smart one, meet Kate, the fun one.
Now we’ve done the introductions let me tell you the saddest thing that never was about this film. Kate is so lonely, so desperately alone with the knowledge that her husband is having an affair that the only person she has in her life to talk to about it all is Carly, the woman he’s having an affair with. And that breaks my heart. Kate is clearly living an isolating life and she’s vulnerable as a consequence.
It’s weird to me, then, that her becoming unhinged is played for laughs because all I can see is a desperate woman witnessing the life she’s built collapse, and her personal sacrifices left unappreciated. Don’t get me wrong, there’s humour to be found in every human experience but this film isn’t funny because we’re asked to laugh at Kate, not with her. And that doesn’t feel nice. Later in the film, Kate reminisces with her for-all-intents-and-purposes-husband about their past in a preamble to some off-camera heavy petting and, even though she knows he’s using her and taking advantage of her in all sorts of ways, she says, “all I ever wanted was to make you happy”. Her self-esteem is so low she fucks her terrible husband to make herself feel better because it might make him feel better. That I’m interested in. That’s complicated. Make a fully realised film about that person. But we don’t get that in The Other Woman, we get some cardboard cut-outs that have about 2-ply worth of layers. And I wouldn’t even wipe my arse with 2-ply.
Leslie Mann, to her credit, does as much as she possibly can to flesh out Kate but still all this back-in-to-the-cheater’s-bed becomes is an excuse for a second-act climax that has something to do with Chlamydia, and Mann is resigned to a role that does not befit her. Leslie Mann has chops. And she perks the whole thing up when her face expresses something the script just can’t or delivers a line so naturally like it’s been ad-libbed. But then they make her do something stupid like own a big dog to make her seem even less in control because she’s a tiny-framed woman being dragged around by a Baskerville hound. Unfortunately there’s nothing even Leslie Mann can do to prevent Kate from her two-dimensional fate when The Other Woman equates her character with bollocks.
1 Dog + 2 Balls = One Weak Woman
Did I mention that Kate was the ditzy one? Well she is, and to prove this she has a huge fucking dog that she takes with her everywhere for the first fifty minutes of the film. And the only reason she has this ridiculous dog is because it serves the purpose of making her look fragile.
She’s a ditzy woman who isn’t in control of her dog so how can she possibly be in control of her life. And this is uncomfortable because somewhere under all the dog-shit jokes there is an implication that she’s to blame for Mark’s infidelities. This dog, with its enormous balls, becomes a metaphor for the husband and marriage she can’t maintain. She can’t control the dog with its giant throbbing balls of potential masculine sexuality, and she can’t satiate her man so he needs to get sex elsewhere which is such a standard cliché it’s a goddamn shame.
I think we’re all pretty comfortable with the variety of ways men and women can have equal libidos, thank you very much Sex and the City, chapter and verse. But these balls seek to undercut everything we learned in the 90s. They are so present that when Carly gets hit in the face with them, a wee joke that we’re supposed to find hilarious, it’s hard for me not to interpret that as a comment on her careerism: you get slapped with a filthy pair of balls that have been in all sorts of other places because you dared to strive for something else.
Plus the last we see of the dog is him being tamed by Kate’s brother, Phil (Taylor Kinney), teaching the mutt to fetch him a beer, suggesting that because, although we never get to find out, Phil’s balls are bigger or better or whatever than the dog’s he’s the only one able to train and tame this rampant animal. I understand if you think I’m reading too much in to these balls and perhaps I am but this film’s representation of women is so scrotum-skin-thin that I can’t help but see signs of misogyny in testes.
Pubes: An Interlude
Typically, because Kate is in a long-term relationship she’s let herself go a little and Carly is disparaging, encouraging Kate to consider some hair maintenance.
Again it’s an ancient, worn out crotch of a joke: uncomfortable with a nasty draft. But it’s basically unfathomable to have someone as hot as Leslie Mann describing how envious she is of Kate’s “situated situation” because she’s impeccable throughout the entire movie. Ok maybe her mascara runs a bit. Once. But there are no creases in her shirts, no chin hairs waiting to be plucked or a single lock of hair left uncurled. She’s made up 100% of the time. And yet we’re still asked to believe that she doesn’t shave her legs and that’s why her husband has fucked a load of other people. The notion is so ridiculous it sends me in to a rage. It’s such a dangerously backwards message for women and a completely misleading representation of men because come on, no man likes 70s-style bush? FALSE. All men want is a fig leaf? A pretty little patch of happiness? Some of them, maybe, but what do YOU want Carly? What do YOU like the look of? Because they’re YOUR pubes, and they don’t have to be viewed in order to be approved. Mantra for life.
Age is Inversely Proportional to Flesh Bared
Kate and Carly decide to team up to try to figure out the life that Mark is leading behind both their backs and lo-and-behold, he’s got a third one on the go: Amber (Kate Upton). Although she doesn’t really need a name because she’s barely a character and this has nothing to do with Kate Upton. Amber is more like a representation of a character that ironically everyone recognises as unoriginal. Carly says upon spying Amber through a pair of binoculars at the beach, “she’s like the cliché version of every wife’s waking nightmare”.
I couldn’t agree more and that’s all she is. The camera zooms in on her ass, then her tits, framed by binocular lenses and you, me, Kate and Carly are all joined together for one grossly objectifying gaze. Then everyone starts running in slo-mo. Not really sure why. Well I do know why. Because Kate Upton is 22, she’s in a little white bikini and her boobs bounce up and down in a way that every woman, no matter what size tits they have, would recognise as agonising. They look like they’re about to tear off and land somewhere in the sand like jellyfish for little boys to poke with sticks. And because this is Hollywood, the hotness scale dictates that each woman cover up accordingly.
So Diaz, 41, is allowed a bare set of legs and a short-sleeved something. Mann, 42, is dressed like a giant newborn baby or an albino or someone in the witness protection programme, covered completely, head-to-toe in tat, in a way that can only be described as perversely practical. Which is as patronising as it gets for someone as fit as Lesley Mann. The Other Woman turns age, tits and box office clout in to the rock-paper-scissors of hotness.
1 Lawyer + 1 Home-maker + 1 Amber = 1 Man
Throughout The Other Woman women are defined by individual character traits rather than as multi-faceted human beings and as a consequence there is a pervasive narrative of fractionality. Kate and Carly discuss how, between them, they make the perfect woman so why is Mark still unsatisfied? Again the tragedy of the low self-esteem of these women is revealed when they describe themselves as half of a whole. And then when Kate and Carly bring Amber in to their fold, they reflect that she “brings up their group average” because of her youthful body. But what these dumbs-dumbs are actually saying is that introducing Amber makes each of them one third of a desirable woman. The three of them do a bit of montage-bonding and decide to take Mark down a peg or too.
But the most troubling thing about this collaboration, and the most troubling thing about the film’s general message (which is reinforced by the singularity of its title), is the equation it creates between these women and a man. Kate wants to create some equality in the situation by disrupting Mark’s life in a proportionate way to how hers has been disrupted, but she feels defeated and suggests she wouldn’t be able to do it because “Mark’s a killer and he always wins.” We already know that Kate, for whatever reason, possibly to do with her shit marriage, is lacking in self-worth and she needs support which is what Carly and Amber offer. But their support doesn’t boost her self-confidence because it reinforces the films central message: “when you put the lawyer, the wife and the boobs together you get the perfect killing machine.” In the world of The Other Woman, three woman-brains aren’t better than one, they equal one.
I can concede that maybe the message here is that they need the power of three because they’re such good people it takes the additional cubed force of Carly-Kate-Amber to stoop as low as down-dirty Mark (hands in the middle ladies, ready? Form of: Fraud Attorney!). But still the inescapable idea is that one man can achieve what three women can only attempt to and this is roundly because the film works wholly in the stereotypes Carly defines her clique as: a lawyer, a wife and a pair of tits.
The Other Woman 9 to 5
It’s hard not to think of 9 to 5 when watching The Other Woman, for a few reasons. They’re both about three women being disrespected by the same man. They both have post-credit sequences that reveal what happens in each woman’s future – I’m sure this is a direct nod by The Other Woman to 9 to 5, giving credit for part of the plot. Both films also seem to be about female friendship but only one really is – 9 to 5 is 100% about women supporting other women and challenging a discriminatory man whilst The Other Woman is 50% about supporting other women because the conflict that drives the drama is always between Carly and Kate.
They don’t unite to fight a common enemy; they unite, fight, unite then fight the enemy as if that wasn’t the obvious thing for these two women in particular to do in the first place. Any scene in which the three women begin to bond in The Other Woman becomes a montage or skipped out completely. Carly says “we are not braiding each other’s hair and drinking cosmos” to Kate when she calls round at her apartment. A bottle of vodka and tequila later and Kate has a pretty little plait in her hair. What happened here?! Did fish-tails just come up in conversation organically?! Seriously, I want to know! Whereas one of the most poignant parts of 9 to 5 is when Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton get to know each other while railing on their boss and getting completely stoned.
Finally, A Lesson in Grammar
Woman = one. There are three women in this film, give them some fucking credit. *mike drop*
- What kind of job does Kate’s brother need to do to afford a flippin’ great beach house but means he doesn’t ever need to actually work? (Clue: it doesn’t exist)
- How big would the lawsuit be against Carly for exposing Mark to the dangers of walking through plate-glass-windowed offices? (Clue: enormous. She’d go to prison.)
- How many bones would Carly have broken falling from the second storey of Kate’s house? (Trick question. She’d be DEAD.)
ABOUT THE WRITER: Laura Tansley’s creative and critical writing has been published in a variety of places including Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, The Island Review (with Jon Owen), Kenyon Review Online (with Micaela Maftei), New Writing Scotland and is forthcoming in NANO Fiction. C.J. Cregg is her TV inspiration, Jonathan Ames’ insecurity is her reality.