After I saw The Other Woman at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2009 (when it was being called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits), I wrote that it was "an emotionally challenging story about the tug-of-war of blended families among the well-to-do on New York's Upper East and West Sides. It's a movie ... that deals with heavy-duty emotional pain, having to do with divorce, remarriage, infidelity and the death of a baby. It's hard to say how this one will be received - but if it's a hit, it will be because people connect to Natalie Portman's daring performance as an understandably abrasive second wife, the first one where I truly believed her as an adult, a woman, as opposed to a prodigious post-adolescent."
More than a year later, the film is finally reaching theaters with a title change - and Oscar-nominee Portman prominently featured in the marketing campaign.
What I said then still holds true. The Other Woman remains an emotionally complex film, built around a not particularly likable character, Emilia (Portman). She lives a privileged life but doesn't seem to have an ounce of give in her.
She is, to be sure, in an uncomfortable situation. Her lawyer husband Jack (Scott Cohen) seems too overwhelmed with his work to pay the kind of attention to her that he did when she was a flirty associate at his firm. And while she has the kind of Upper East Side existence that she dreamed of when she was slogging through Harvard Law, it's not the way she expected it would be.
After all, she's now forced to serve as step-parent to an uptight child - William (Charlie Tahan), Jack's son from his first marriage. She also must cope with the undermining influence of Jack's ex-wife, an incredibly bitter physician named Carolyne (Lisa Kudrow). Carolyne not only bad mouths Emilia to William but maintains a martinet's strict control over William's routine - from the food he eats to how he spends his leisure time. Emilia messes with that schedule at her own peril.
Emilia also has her own emotional issues to deal with. She is estranged from her father, who cheated on her mother (and who is now trying to get back into both of their lives). And, finally, Emilia is coping with her own grief and guilt over the death of the baby she and Jack had (her pregnancy being the thing that provoked the end of his first marriage).
Yet Emilia is discovering that being an adult can be lonely work. Having been coddled and pampered for most of her life - having been the one who was sought instead of the one dong the seeking - she now discovers that once you get there, no one is worrying about your happiness. Except you. And the obstacles are significant.
So, yes, she's sad that her baby died and unhappy that life as a step-mom is so much work. But no one cares, except her husband and her friends - and they, frankly, are a little tired of her whining. Either take care of the problem or learn to live with it is the implied message, one that she can't seem to absorb.
It's a slice of real life - if Upper East Side real life. But the unhappy lessons that Emilia learns - grudgingly - as she tries to adjust to the new normal of her life won't comfort many viewers. It's a tough pill to swallow and writer-director Don Roos, adapting from the novel by Ayelet Waldman, doesn't sugar-coat it.
Instead, he draws a believably unlikable performance out of Portman, who eventually may win you over just because no one deserves the kind of emotional pummeling she takes in the name of being privileged.
Portman shows a real talent for playing bratty, unhappy characters that don't seem to be able to get out of their own way. In The Other Woman, she's believable as a princessy type who discovers that, just because she feels entitled doesn't mean she'll ever quite get what she wants when she wants it.
Welcome to real life, honey.
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