Natalie Portman as Emilia in the movie "The Other Woman." (Barry Wetcher / IFC Films )
Like countless misunderstood mistresses, the title character of "The Other Woman" didn't set out to wreck an already busted home. Nor did she shy away from her love for a married man.
Now, on the other side of the looking glass, she's ostracized by elementary-school mothers for being a "second wife" and for not conforming to the new-millennial, uptown Manhattan ideal of child-rearing. She's also grappling with capital-G grief over the death of a newborn, trying to forge a bond with her precocious stepson and struggling to save her marriage.
Casting a critical eye on certain female stereotypes while embracing others, this soapy drama manages to be both half-baked and overcooked. As stepmothers go, Emilia Greenleaf, the title character brought to vulnerable life by Natalie Portman, isn't evil but awkward and conflicted.
While she and her husband, Jack (Scott Cohen), tussle it out, the true love story concerns Emilia and her 8-year-old stepson, William (Charlie Tahan). A trying lad, he channels his controlling mother's values in the form of dietary restrictions, safety rules and character judgments and keeps jabbing at Emilia's pain over the unspeakable loss of her 3-day-old daughter.
Tahan is whip-smart and wounded as William, and Portman's scenes with him have an emotional vibrancy that's lacking elsewhere, though not for want of trying. Like its source novel, Ayelet Waldman's "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits," director Don Roos' screenplay leaves no space for reverie.
Taking much of its dialogue from the book, it's overloaded with therapy-speak, every character mouthing some part of the lessons on tap, often in mind-numbing exchanges (perhaps fitting when Emilia and Jack are lawyers).
The film offers wry observations about the exacting standards for mommy-dom among the professional classes but in the process utterly demonizes Jack's ex (a thankless role for Lisa Kudrow), who alternates between shrill and shriller.
Equating interpersonal issues with drama, "The Other Woman" is mostly flat and plodding. In contrast to the bracing "Rabbit Hole," another recent feature about the aftermath of a child's death, it insists on explaining everything, and in so doing diminishes the terrible ache at its core.