From Feb. 13, 2011 — The Don Roos film “The Other Woman,” starring Natalie Portman, was ready for release two years ago, but has just debuted in New York City at the IFC Center and as an On Demand choice of Sundance Selects, but don’t let this slight aura of damaged goods put you off.
It’s a powerful film — mixing drama and comedy with little strain — about a New York woman coping with a new marriage and her rocky performance as stepmother to her husband’s precocious eight-year-old son.
Emilia Greenleaf (Natalie Portman) is also coping with the death of her infant daughter right after she married an attorney at her firm — Jack (Scott Cohen, below) — who left his first wife, Carolyne (Lisa Kudrow), for the younger woman.
Online you can find some pretty vile chat room assessments of this movie that say Emilia is a character beneath contempt — for “stealing” someone else’s husband — but the fresh thing about “The Other Woman” is the way that it doesn’t sugarcoat the challenge of juggling romantic relationships with family responsibilities.
Emilia is still so frozen by her grief that she can’t deal with her husband’s son, William (played by the amazing Charlie Tahan, above), in a clear-headed manner, and the boy is so angry about what his father did that he pushes Emilia’s buttons in a very nasty way (in one scene, the kid suggests his stepmother sell her dead baby’s unused stroller and crib on eBay).
Jack’s ex is so furious about what happened to her marriage that she plants poisonous ideas in her son’s head (i.e. that under Jewish tradition, Emilia’s baby didn’t live long enough to count as a “real person”).
The abrasive relationships are depicted so unflinchingly that it is easy to understand why some reviewers have been put off by the movie, but I admire the way Roos captures a messy, painful situation and then shows us how the characters muddle through it.
Portman gives another remarkable performance — on a par with her work in “Black Swan” — as an angry woman who only earns our sympathy after long scenes in which she seems to be sabotaging herself and her marriage.
“The Other Woman” shows us how tragedies don’t arrive singly — and on schedule — in life.
You don’t necessarily have a chance to process one trauma before another erupts — in fact, in my experience, family crises explode in shocking clusters (with those who are closest to you not always behaving the way you expect them to in the face of disaster).
Roos deserves kudos for producing a mainstream film about contemporary family life that has genuine emotional complexity.
(“The Other Woman” is currently available as an On Demand selection from Sundance Selects.)