Don Roos’ drama The Other Woman is based on Ayelet Waldman’s novel Love And Other Impossible Pursuits, which is really a better title for the story of a woman mired in too many complicated situations at once. Natalie Portman plays an associate at a New York law firm who develops a crush on married partner Scott Cohen—a crush that turns into an affair, which leads to Portman getting pregnant and Cohen divorcing his wife (Lisa Kudrow). But then the baby dies of SIDS, and Portman’s new marriage is in trouble: Cohen is increasingly stand-offish, Kudrow is viciously judgmental, and Portman’s precocious stepson Charlie Tahan aggravates her constantly. Like Waldman’s novel, The Other Woman is an attempt to grapple with loss, as well as ambivalence about motherhood and how hard it can be to forge a lasting relationship when there are so many people cluttering up the periphery.
But the book may have been too unwieldy for Roos to wrangle. There’s a lot of story (and backstory) here, which Roos tries to squeeze in every which way, via flashbacks, long speeches, and montages set to earnest indie-pop. And in order to make Portman’s situation extra-stressful, Roos has Kudrow crank her usual snappish-bitch persona up to a ludicrous degree, and has every fleeting moment of hope in the movie turn into yet another crisis. Portman takes Tahan out for ice cream, but the kid gets diarrhea; Portman makes a nice stir-fry dinner, then knocks it to the kitchen floor when she hears that Kudrow is pregnant; Portman goes to a memorial march for dead infants, then flips out when her philandering dad shows up. The Other Woman is often touching and believable in the way it shows people trying to recover from tragedy and get back to normal. But that’s such a small, fragile notion to dramatize, and The Other Woman is so full of incident and conflict that it loses track of what it’s supposed to be about.