It’s funny what movies sometimes pique your interest. I saw a trailer for relationship drama Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (or, as it was retitled in America, The Other Woman) on some completely unrelated US Blu-ray earlier this year (I forget which film it was, but the only connection was the disc’s distribution company) and wondered why I’d never heard of it before — after all, it looked like a Worthy Drama, starring Oscar Winner Natalie Portman and Lisa Kudrow From Friends. Turns out it was shot in 2009 but not released until 2011, when it was slated by critics (a measly 39% on Rotten Tomatoes), flopped at the US box office (it opened at an unimaginably painful 67th place (who knew there were that many films out at once?), grossing just $25,423 total), and went straight to DVD in the UK. Ouch.
So, me being me, the double-whammy combination of “that looks like it might be quite good” and “wow, that’s meant to be terrible” put it straight at the top of my rental queue.
Emilia (Portman) is the titular Other Woman, but rather than the film telling the well-trod story of an affair, that part’s long over before the film begins — she’s living with Manhattan lawyer Jack (Scott Cohen, the magnificent Wolf in underrated miniseries The 10th Kingdom), trying to build a relationship with his son William (Charlie Tahan), who’s more attached to his mother (Kudrow). Colouring everything is the fact that, some time shortly before the film begins, Emilia and Jack had a baby who died.
As I was brought to the film by its trailer, it pays to say it’s actually very different. The advert hides the baby’s death but hints at it, as if it’s a Big Reveal they clumsily didn’t want to give away. But no, it’s brought up within the first five or so minutes and actually drives a lot of the film. The emphasised “other woman” facet is present, though in a slightly different way to normal: this is how such relationships continue as a long-term status quo, rather than the immediate impact of an affair.
Or a version of that, anyway, because the presentation is a bit melodramatic. Melodrama can be fine; good, even — but it’s a style, arguably a genre; a heightened one, and that runs counter to realism. This is a film that shoots for realism and slides into melodrama, and that’s not good. There are powerful ideas for scenes, but most are badly handled. Portman and Kudrow are quality actresses who deliver some good bits, but also some that go OTT. Especially from the latter, who’s not given enough screen time to move far beyond a caricature of the vengeful ex-wife.
The single worst bit comes 13 minutes in: an extended flashback, the film’s only one (which, structurally, makes it stick out like a sore thumb), in which we see the affair I said they were doing so well not covering. Emilia and Jack fall in love. Why? Because the plot tells them to. It’s also the nadir of another irritant, the film’s sappy plinky-plonky music.
I can imagine that flashback working within the shape of a novel, where structure works differently. Indeed, I got the impression the book is probably very novelistic; maybe a character study, even. Those are two things that don’t always transfer well to film. I don’t think it’s about Being The Other Woman, despite the US title; nor do I think it’s about Being The Stepmother; nor is it about Losing A Baby. Those things are all in there, certainly, but rather than any of them be The Story, they’re elements in the exploration of the character of Emilia. I’m not sure that works for a movie; not for this one at any rate.
Not a complete disaster, but nowhere near a success. This score is perhaps a tad harsh, but any more would’ve been generous.
* Two quick notes about the UK Blu-ray. Firstly, according to IMDb, the film ran 119 minutes at the Toronto International Film Festival, but was cut to 102 by the US release. The UK BD is the shorter cut at PAL speed. Secondly, the original aspect ratio was apparently 1.85:1, but the BD has been cropped (or widened) to 2.35:1. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before, but there you have it. ^