Ever since she snagged her Oscar for Black Swan, Natalie Portman has been everywhere. From the unfortunately unfunny Your Highness to the comic book adaptation Thor, she has had 5 or 6 films in theaters lately, all making profits from her recognition by the Academy. IFC has dug up a film from two years ago they never properly released, and decided to give it a go, too. The Other Woman, which never made it to most cities, is coming out on DVD this week, two years after it was finished. Does it hold up among her other recent performances?
Natalie Portman plays Emilia, an archetypal homewrecker. She falls for her boss, their brief affair leads to her becoming pregnant, and he leaves his wife for her. Their relationship is strained by his young son, William, who channels his mother’s frustration and seems to reject Emilia before really giving her a chance. Then, when the baby is born, the couple is thrust into an insurmountable tragedy: the infant dies of SIDS after three days.
Initially, the film resembles some sort of rip off of last years Rabbit Hole, also about the effect that the death of a child has on a relationship, but it never lingers in that territory too long. It also seems to pale in comparison to the intensity of Portman’s performance in Black Swan, but she did this role prior to that film and the emotional range on display clearly prepared her for her gig as the shy, sexually frustrated Nina.
It is a shame that this film didn’t get a proper release, not because it is something spectacular, but because now, two years after it was made, we are forced to see it out of context. We weren’t given trailers for it, which makes it seem like some “direct to DVD” movie, and therefore not as good as her more cinematic efforts. But that is simply not the case. Natalie Portman gives a stunning performance, easily one of the best attributes of the film.
Don Roos, the director, has had two previous films, The Opposite of Sex and Happy Endings, both of which are talked about far too little, and both of which have an enormous amount of humanism in them. That human element is present here in his portrayal of a typically snubbed character, the titular other woman. We explore her doubts and pains in a way that deepens our image of that persona. We are pressured by the social idea of the nuclear family to reject anything that can tear it apart, and so the notion that someone like Emilia could not only have depth, but be a very complex, pained, and loving individual, is something we are rarely presented with. This film gives us a unique focus on an under-represented character, and one that isn’t concerned with having the lives of its characters resemble some story out of a book.
Emilia’s life is hard and unforgiving in its apparent chaos, but it also has its moments. Skating in Central Park with her step-son, you can see a light at the end of Emilia’s tunnel, one that suggests that amidst the pain of death, there is ultimately the possibility of happiness.