The Other Woman
Directed by Don Roos
Starring Natalie Portman, Scott Cohen, Lisa Kudrow
Nina Sayers from “Black Swan” is probably the most true-fit role of Natalie Portman’s career. Everyday characters, though — the relatable mom, wife or girlfriend — are not so becoming for Portman, much to the detriment of “The Other Woman” (and, two weeks ago, “No Strings Attached”).
Adapting Ayelet Waldman’s novel, “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits,” director Don Roos casts Portman as Emilia, a lawyer who becomes involved with her older married boss (Scott Cohen). He leaves his wife (Lisa Kudrow) to start a new family with Emilia, a backstory laid down in a tidy flashback sequence. When their daughter dies in infancy, though, the movie proceeds as a splatterfest of emotions, with Emilia navigating the besieged, unsteady life of a homewrecker and, even trickier, a stepmother.
Emilia is not the most sympathetic of women — she is, after all, the gorgeous young interloper who breaks up a marriage. Homewrecking history aside, though, empathetic flaws have been carefully etched into her being: She is the down-to-earth, imperfect counterpoint to the snobbish ex-wife. Shunned by the Upper East Side community into which she has been inducted, she is also very alone.
Portman tries to convey emotional toughness through monotone, steering clear of inflection and higher pitches. She’s done this with other flawed-but-tough roles, and it always backfires. For a woman who must win our sympathies, she is too flat, too coy, a notch too indifferent, and her performance distracts from a story that could have been more emotionally resonant.
In spite of Portman, though, the film offers some truly raw moments, especially when it hones in on Emilia’s insecurities as a mother. A scene that Portman shares with Kudrow in a doctor’s office is one of the most poignant in the movie. It’s moments like this that save “The Other Woman” from becoming an onerous moping marathon.
Playing at IFC Center