Natalie Portman plays Emilia, the other woman. Emilia had an affair with her boss, Jack. Jack divorced his wife to marry Emilia. Everybody did not live happily ever after. From the moment we first meet her it is obvious Emilia is struggling. There is tension in her marriage, her efforts to be a stepmother to Jack's son are failing miserably. And there is an undercurrent of sadness always lingering, a horrible tragedy having occurred, a tragedy which haunts Emilia. The woman is a wreck, her life is a sad shambles. And she's not getting much sympathy. Jack's first wife Carolyn, not without reason, despises Emilia and does everything she can to make the life of the woman who replaced her completely miserable. Carolyn poisons her son, William, against Emilia. William has no respect for Emilia and acts out against his stepmother in rather cruel ways. All the mothers of William's classmates treat Emilia with utter disdain, scorning her as a home wrecker. Jack is the only person Emilia has to turn to but even that relationship is strained. It's a desperately sad situation yet many people would say Emilia is getting exactly what she deserves.
Emilia certainly is not a perfect person by any means. She has gone down some morally deficient paths. And with her cold personality she's a very hard person to warm up to. But as the story unfolds, flashing back to happier times and then to desperately sad times before catching up with the present, you can see where that coldness might come from. This is a woman who has been emotionally wounded in the worst possible way and who carries around an unbearably burdensome guilt. Yes, she made mistakes but she is now doing the best she can to put things right. She could use a little help but that help is very hard to come by. A woman who breaks up a family is not the most sympathetic of characters and that is a bit of a problem for this movie. Because for the movie to work you really have to sympathize with, and pull for, Emilia. And at times that is very hard to do.
Portman does a reasonably good job in the starring role. The story requires Emilia to be cold and often unpleasant. Perhaps Portman made Emilia just a little bit too cold for the movie's good. Lisa Kudrow, playing Carolyn, holds nothing back. If Emilia is somewhat cold Carolyn is the absolute ice queen. If anything makes you sympathize with Emilia it is the way Carolyn berates her at every opportunity. Charlie Tahan, playing young William, seems to grow into his role as the movie progresses. At first William comes across like a total brat but the kid has been put in a tough spot. It seems he wants to hurt Emilia but maybe he's just a kid, maybe he doesn't even realize the impact of his words and actions. As the relationship between William and Emilia evolves Tahan and Portman have some nice moments together. And in a movie filled with so much hurt we really need some nice moments. You would think the role of Jack would be vitally important, and it probably should be. But Scott Cohen does not make much of an impression in that role. A few other characters pop up with their own accompanying subplots, most notably Emilia's parents. But the movie is really all about Emilia, all that she has to deal with and her struggles to handle it all. In the end it does not come together perfectly. Things get a little melodramatic and the movie rushes through an awkward ending which doesn't really work. However there are enough good things here to make The Other Woman worth seeing. The story isn't perfect, the characters are flawed but the movie still holds your attention. Not a great movie by any means but reasonably compelling and entertaining.
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