Movies featuring a couple who have lost a child (e.g., Rabbit Hole) have become so familiar that it's difficult not to be cynical before you even sit down---especially when it's another one featuring a well-to-do, gorgeous family. Usually, these films' premises are too contained, with no cultural or political implications to mess up an interior story of grieving parents. Not so with The Other Woman, in which Emilia (Portman), the mourning mother in question, is second wife---and second fiddle---to busy lawyer Jack (Cohen), who already has a child with first wife Carolyne (Kudrow), an equally busy ob-gyn who hates Emilia's guts.
In an early flashback, a friend gives Emilia a piece of shrewd marriage advice, about pleasing the stepson. But as she mourns her days-old baby, Emilia is more of a snotty big sister than a responsible nurturer to eight-year-old William (Tahan), who, cranky and dithering, has accepted the biases of his mother, if not the power of his situation. It's in the exploration of this complicated relationship that the film does best, nudging at the hypocrisies lurking beneath its well-photographed blond and gray uptown surfaces with clever dialogue and painfully on-point situations.
The problem, however, lies squarely with Portman herself, who (Oscar nod or no) seems unlikely to ever achieve a tone between histrionic and affectless. Ultimately, it's Kudrow who saves the picture: Blazing and bitter, she may be allotted a third dimension only near the end of the movie, but, man, does she pack a wallop when it finally comes.
Watch the trailer