Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Don Roos does a sweet and sour, main-stream soaper with THE OTHER WOMAN

Really? Don Roos? The guy who gave us The Opposite of Sex and Happy Endings? That's right. But did you realize that Mr. Roos received co-screenwriting credit on Marley & Me? Remember, too, that this fellow also furnished us with Bounce. His career can certainly be seen as a moving between the independent and mainstream scenes. It's into the latter area -- though with a relatively small budget, I suspect -- that his new film THE OTHER WOMAN lands. And not with a thud. This is a classy, entertaining, intelligent and very well-acted soap opera that centers on that title character and is told mostly from her point of view. Fortunately, with warts and all.

The filmmaker (shown at right) directed and adapted his movie from the novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman, and he is blessed to have the collaboration of Natalie Portman in the title role. Still looking only a few years older than her debut in The Professional, Ms Portman uses her sly combination of charm and reticence -- and, oh my, yes, beauty -- to ingratiate herself to the other characters, as much as to us viewers before allowing us to see all the areas in which her character has not quite grown up and yet has taken on a load -- assumed home-wrecker, second wife, stepmother -- for which she's simply not ready. Yet.

Ms. Portman (shown at left) glows, radiates and luminesces, giving a much better performance here than in that let's-see-how-many-basket-cases-we-can-cram-into-a-single-silly-movie Black Swine, er, Swan.  Though without the ballet, biting, blood and faux lesbian sex, it's unlikely that The Other Woman will turn into quite such a box-office bonanza. Portman's Emilia is both a rich character and a complete one, and the movie that surrounds her asks its viewers to open up to things -- helpful or not -- just as its heroine must do.

Roos hasn't lost his appreciation for smart dialog, even in a relatively mainstream soap. Of a private school, we are told: "Experiencing rich people of all colors is not diversity," and the give-and-take between Emilia and her stepson William (a terrific job by Charlie Tahan, shown at near right) is lots of fun without ever losing its believability. Content-wise, The Other Woman at times seems like an updated version of those 30s melodramas with heroines you can root for who nonetheless need to learn their lessons. Stylisticaly, the filmmaker handles flashbacks with an appropriate flash, while obtaining quick, finely-drawn performances from his entire supporting cast.

As the guy who leaves his wife for the pretty face who targets him from day one, Scott Cohen (above, right) is exemplary: an older, serious counterpoint to Portman's goofy grace, energy and occasional self-pity. By the end, it's Cohen who has given the movie much of the weight it has accrued.

As Emilia's workplace friends who give generally good advice (which she often doesn't take), Anthony Rapp (above left) and Lauren Ambrose (above, right) bring humor, smarts and individuality to fairly stock characters.

As the wronged wife, who may very well have deserved it, Lisa Kudrow (left) adds another smart performance to her gallery of indelible supporting turns. This actress is always so good, it's little wonder she's used again and again with each new year.  Out on DVD/Blu-Ray now are two of her good movies from last year: Paper Man (in which she's used in a middling manner) and Easy A (in which she's been given a terrific supporting role). Here, she's icy and then angry, and the scene in which she's allowed to have a moment of actual feeling for the woman who's wronged her is a fine one indeed. Kudrow excels at nasty, but she's even better when she's allowed to combine this with the other layers that make up our individuality.

Also in the cast are Debra Monk and Michael Christopher (who is as good here as I think I've ever seen him), playing the Portman character's parents. There's a lot of talent both on-view and behind the camera, plus the occasional lovely visual (as below: the DP is Steve Yedlin ). In short: you'll find plenty to make The Other Woman worth watching.

From IFC Films, the movie begins its run this Friday, February 4, in New York City at the IFC Center and in Beverly Hills at Laemmle's Music Hall 3. In something of a switch, the film has been playing On-Demand since the beginning of January and will end its VOD run tomorrow, February 3, in preparation for its theatrical release. 

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