There's a terrific and deeply necessary movie that could have been made out of the basic DNA of The Other Woman. It is, for starters, basically a platonic rom-com about how a pair of mismatched women come to rely on each other as friends, and cinematic depictions of female friendships are achingly rare (contra the general buzz, the film manages to meagerly pass the Bechdel Test - two named women have a conversation that's not about a man - though not nearly as easily as a film whose three leads are all females should have done. I believe there's a hefty total of three brief conversations in 109 minutes that qualify). And the notion of these two people bonding because one of them is sleeping with the other's husband, and they both feel horribly betrayed is, I'd say, a genuinely durable and smart plot hook with a sophisticated, old-school tang; it recalls the 1932 Rachel Cruthers play When Ladies Meet, twice adapted into solid, rewardingly grown-up movies.

But The Other Woman is neither terrific nor deeply necessary; it is, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty damn bad. Not as bad as the reputation it has already built up for itself: at an absolute minimum, it boasts one good and one surprisingly open performance, from Leslie Mann and model Kate Upton, respectively (the third leg and de facto main character is played by Cameron Diaz in unyielding "Come on, I deserve better than this, right?" mode), and anyway I did not choke to death while watching it, which some of the reviews had suggested might be a realistic possibility.

The film is basically a showcase for the comic and dramatic stylings of Mann, who dives into her role with nearly frightening gusto, like setting off a nuclear bomb in a tea party. It's honestly difficult to say if it's amazing acting or terrible; committed and fierce and energetic beyond a shadow of a doubt, but also prone at every moment to knocking all the balance out of the film. Particularly in the moments when Mann heavily emphasises the raw red pain and disorientation of a woman who has just learned that everything she's been building over the many years of a marriage that has left her without a profession or life of her own is null and void. There's a dizzying mania to that, which reads as "comedy" very often; not always funny comedy. No sir, The Other Woman is not, at any rate, invested in funny comedy. Its humor is of a particularly guttural, shrill level, in which most jokes are either "it's funny because the ladies are screaming invective" or "it's funny because the ladies are taking about sex and vaginas". It is better for the film when it does not leave this area, for its efforts to expand beyond the most limited idea of what comedy can be typically goes horribly awry: on two separate occasions, the film puts a complete halt on any kind of momentum to tarry and linger over a shit joke. The second, and by far the more robust, even requires shifting perspective for the first and only time away from one of the leading women, as though it was such an exciting and innovative and life-changing shit joke that the filmmakers were fully willing to break the basic narrative structure of their movie to make sure that it could be included. Even setting aside the basic intellectual and comic poverty of the shit joke, this was the wrong one for this movie.

But back to Mann. Her wild mania can play as comedy, but just as often it plays as savage emotional naturalism, a desperate woman swinging from moment to moment of sheer existential terror which can only be put off by eager self-medication or by grasping onto whatever passing human being she can make some kind of emotional connection with, even - especially! - if that's the other woman whose unwitting actions have been the source of all this trauma. That is also potentially the meat of a great movie, though probably not a great comedy (or, at least, not a very funny one), and when given this shockingly intense performance, director Nick Cassavetes and company are plainly at a loss; thus the whole thing is is treated as the ditzy lark it was written to be, and Mann looks dangerously unmodulated and overly Big.

Nothing else about The Other Woman is remotely as interesting to talk about, though I legitimately admire Upton's gamely self-effacing performance as a sexy blonde idiot with enthusiasm and good cheer and no illusions about who she is ("I see a dolphin", in context, is a genuinely funny delivery of a genuinely funny line). It's a lazy attempt to cross-breed The First Wives Club and John Tucker Must Die, the first of which had some minimal charm owing to its charismatic cast, the latter of which is truly without merit; it is this genealogy that points out that the film in its current incarnation lives and dies not on its cynical "women get revenge on a man" plot that comes from no kind of feminist place that I have ever heard of (it's nominally in favor of empowered women, but it doesn't seem to have any real sense of what such a creature might look like in the wild), but on the chemistry in between its stars. With Diaz being plainly disinterested in a role that makes her recite perfunctory lines about self-reliance and sex, from beneath a deeply unfortunate amount of mascara, there's no real spark of chemistry to speak of, and Cassavetes seems content to assume that by having Diaz in his movie, he's got that famous Diaz Spunk lined up already and doesn't need to do anything to coax it out of her. The result is three leads who feel like they're in three movies: Mann in some kind of sobering dramedy about betrayal and recovery, Upton in just a chill hang-out movie where everybody's having too much fun to bother with characterisation, and Diaz in a shitty cash-in comedy that has feeble jokes and unhealthy attitudes about humanity. Diaz, of course, is correct; but it doesn't make The Other Woman any more survivable when it's specifically trying not to be better than its worst impulses.