Not-so divine secrets of the blah blah sisterhood of the oft-removed pants…
Hot shot lawyer Carly (Cameron Diaz) finally meets the man of her dreams (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and may even be considering settling down. So, what’s the problem (there must be a problem, right?)? It seems that her dreamboat already made the choice to settle down years ago with his wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). When the two jilted women team up in friendship, stakeouts, and revenge, they stumble upon yet another mistress and the three amigos become inseparable.
Director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, The Other Sister) lightens his touch a bit in his latest estrogen-filled opus. Sure, there are certainly opportunities for his ladies to learn a little something about life and love, but the focus here is squarely on laughs. Unfortunately, there still aren’t too many to be found.
First and foremost, the biggest problem here seems to be a script at odds with itself. The central character is definitely the long-single Carly, but the much more interesting story lies with secondary character Kate. She not only has the biggest dramatic arc in the picture, but Leslie Mann gives the best performance, both in terms of the comedic and emotional moments. She’s bounces back and forth between total wacko and ultimate put-upon wife with ease and scores the film’s biggest laughs. It may be time for Mann to find an agent who can put her name above a film’s title – she’s got the chops for it -and who can get her a role that does not require her to film a scene on a toilet.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Diaz’s performance (she’s charming enough and occasionally funny), but her character seems to be in the spotlight simply because she is played by Cameron Diaz. It is an odd choice that doesn’t quite work out. In fact, Mann makes several inferences to Diaz being the perfect woman that she no longer is, but she seems to be talking to the Diaz of ten years ago. As it stands, Mann holds her own quite well.
Interestingly, the film opens with a semi-sweet montage that could actually add a bit of a surprise as to who is who in the film, but any chance of that is ruined by the constantly-run trailer. In fact, as seems to be an all-too-common problem, the trailer robs the film of any opportunities to keep the audience guessing as to what happens next. One particular possible dramatic development that should have the audiences choosing sides until its resolution is rendered useless by the fact that, because a major featured character has not yet been introduced, so that MUST be what’s going on.
The script’s inner turmoil continues as the women become fast friends in their mission to ruin the man who has been playing them all. At times it seems to be going for the too-easy, forced gross-out gags (Leslie Mann is not the only one who spends time on a toilet here) and awkwardly violent set pieces straight from The Hangover or Bridesmaids (but, you know, not as good). Then, at others, it’s about three women forced together under the weirdest circumstances into wine-drinking, cycle-syncing, hair-kinking besties. You’ll actually be surprised that “Climb Every Mountain” never makes its way onto the soundtrack and no one ever becomes particularly empowered.
Supporting performances are a bit hit or miss as well. Nicki Minaj shows promise as an assistant and confidant to Diaz, but is too often done in by the odd, affected acting choices and inconsistent and unidentifiable accent she adopts. Kate Upton, as the third woman, is more successful. While mostly called upon to look good (job done), she also gets a chance to show a bit of comedic timing and pulls it off rather well. She is failed, again, by a script that can’t find a consistency in her portrayal. One moment, she’s the dumb bimbo who doesn’t know which end of the binoculars to look through, and the next, she is able to hack into a man’s online bank account seemingly simply because the other characters weren’t available to do it.
The men in the cast don’t fare quite so well either. Coster-Waldau is appropriately charismatic and particularly slimy when called for, but the filmmakers unwisely also give him a couple of over-the-top physical comedy bits that don’t seem to fit as well into his wheelhouse. Taylor Kinney as the requisite nice guy tasked to swoop in and teach one of the ladies a thing or two about true love comes across as bland, but likeable. His only real personality trait seems to be a desire to not shave (which he seems to get over about halfway through). Only old-pro Don Johnson scores for the testosterone sect in a stereotypical role that he still manages to inject with a good dose of humor.
Things aren’t all bad, I suppose. The three leading ladies show great chemistry together. They come together for a pretty odd reason, but they almost pull off making it believable. Also, a late film introduction to a new conflict involving financial corruption wisely ups the ante and gives us a new resolution to begin rooting for just as the film’s main storyline gets a bit wearing.
JASON’S FINAL THOUGHTS:
I’m admittedly not the target audience for a film like this, but I’m usually pretty good at picking out the ones that have something special that separates them from the pack. This, unfortunately, is the type of film that they created a pack for to begin with. Never really boring, but rarely particularly entertaining either, I’d imagine this might just work perfectly for that group of women who were a bachelorette party last week, but are trying to cheer up one of their members this week after a particularly messy and long-time-coming breakup. Funny performances from Leslie Mann and Don Johnson make it tolerable, but are not enough to save it. The lessons learned? Cheat more carefully and give Leslie Mann a leading role already…
Review by Lead Writer & Film Critic, Jason Howard