“The Other Woman” offers another strong Portman performance

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The Other Woman

Directed by Don Roos

2011, USA

The Other Woman, or as it is known under its better title Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, features what might be Natalie Portman’s first grown-up performance.  She has always been a good actress, but her work here in Don Roos’ film adaptation of Ayelet Waldman’s novel might be her best performance to date.  The film premiered in 2008 at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is just now getting a limited release on video-on-demand and in theatres due to the buzz around Portman’s performance in Black Swan.

Portman plays Emilia Greenleaf, an aspiring lawyer working in a powerful law firm run by Jack Woolf (Scott Cohen).  When they fall in love and get married, Emilia becomes pregnant, but her child dies only three days after its birth.  The film mainly focuses on Emilia’s relationship with William, her stepson, played wonderfully by Charlie Tahan.  Emilia is trying to get over the death of her newborn daughter, and William is struggling with the fact that he has to accept his stepmom as part of his family.  The scenes between those two are the best of the film, and Roos lets them play out with a tender touch.  Portman and Tahan have a wonderful chemistry.

Complicating things is Carolyne, Jack’s ex-wife, played by Lisa Kudrow.  She clearly does not approve of Emilia taking care of William and she lets everyone within hearing distance know it. While Carolyne’s rants might be too on-the-nose sometimes, she is played perfectly by Kudrow and we are allowed to empathize with her.

Michael Cristofer does a beautiful job as Emilia’s father, who she still has yet to forgive for his absence from her childhood.  There is a wonderful scene where Emilia breaks down and loses it at a memorial walk through Central Park where she is accompanied by Jack, William, and her two co-workers Mindy (Lauren Ambrose) and Simon (Anthony Rapp).  Roos allows the scene to play without any pyrotechnics and he follows through with its natural consequences.

Roos has shown throughout his career that he is especially adept at writing strong female characters, and this is definitely another example of that.  He allows his women to be flawed yet strong.  In different hands, these characters would have been clichés, but in Roos’s, they are gratifyingly three-dimensional characters.

Josh Youngerman

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