Is Adultery Ever Funny? A Former "Other Woman" on The Other Woman
- Rebecca Halton
- 2014 29 Apr
As a former "other woman" who saw the previews for The Other Woman, I was nervous to see the movie. Early buzz around the film declared it a "revenge comedy." In light of my experience it's hard to think of infidelity as funny.
But it's not just about my experience: I saw The Other Woman with Shelley Hendrix, my TeamRedeemed.org co-leader. Shelley's first husband actually left for another woman. His infidelity even led to their painful divorce.
So there we were: the woman who was once the other woman, next to the woman who was once the wounded wife. We discerningly watched Leslie Mann and Cameron Diaz pretend to be where Shelley and I were, 15 and 7 years ago, respectively.
Sure, there were parts at which I laughed – especially at Mann's physical comedy.
But the jokes that directly relate to the premise of the story – adultery – were as sad, infuriating, or uncomfortable as I had anticipated. Many of the film's semi-serious attempts at portraying adultery were also awkward.
I realize this movie was never meant to be a realistic depiction of infidelity's effects, but it did attempt some explanations for most characters' behavior. Unfortunately, most of those explanations were extreme or stereotypical. For example:
- The film goes above and beyond to demonize the adulterer, even calling him a "monster," and there's an inaccurate example of justice at the end.
- The betrayed wife was depicted as silly, comfortable (boring), naïve and less attractive (which is ironic because of how beautiful and fit Leslie Mann is).
- The other women (Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton) were portrayed as empowered, emotionally controlled, or vixen-like and void of feelings.
It's been weird to see social-media reactions this week, in which some moviegoers call The Other Woman the funniest movie they've seen. Really? I understood months ago that the film wasn't trying to be a serious prescription for dealing with adultery, but it's nonetheless ironic that it's billed as a comedy, because it's truly tragic.
For example, it was hardest for me to hold back my tears when Mann's character was crying in her wedding dress. I knew from personal conversations that Shelley had done that at some point, too, all those years ago.
Shelley and I looked over at each other during that scene. Softly lit by the light of the movie screen, I could see her eyes – wide and compassionate – and hear her whisper:
"I remember that."
Shelley said these words as a woman who has walked the tough road to redemption. She has moved forward with her life, into ministry and a wonderful marriage with – as she puts it – a "hunk of a man." Yet that scene still triggered a tender memory for her.
I knew Shelley and I would be able to handle this film without feeling our old shame and pain: God's grace and healing have empowered us to remember without re-living. But for many women, this film will be salt on unhealed wounds.
Anticipating that sting, I encourage people who do watch, to watch prepared.
And I'm not suggesting such preparedness only if you've been wounded by adultery. Watch prepared if your teen or adult child is seeing it, too. Watch prepared if you're a giddy newlywed. Watch prepared if you're single and know you have residual hurts from dating, or your father-daughter relationship.
This movie does enough to press certain buttons of our hearts – but then does nothing to offer true healing. I'm personally not surprised, but many viewers may be unsuspecting as to how this film can actually affect them.
The Other Woman has the potential to be a great conversation starter about adultery, revenge, forgiveness and restoration... if you actually discuss it.
But mostly, the film leads us to moments of surprising depth, then yanks us back into shallowness, like a cowardly swimmer afraid of what she might find in the deep. The characters represent the emotional tug-of-war the audience may feel, too.
No sooner did one of the characters begin to feel her pain or brokenness than it seemed another character would "come to the rescue" with a new tactic, or tequila. I'm not out of touch, but alcohol – like revenge – is not a real solution. To present either as such is misleading.
In this film, revenge and alcohol are the saviors (though it tries to make viewers think "friendship" is the hero).
Both false saviors are pacifiers that can prolong pain, delay freedom and create new consequences. When characters aren't numbing or avoiding their pain, they're oblivious to the real source of their motives. Instead, the film covers the real issues with generic, false blanket statements.
Here are several from the film that really alarmed me:
- Forgiveness is only for people who ask for it.
- Our healing comes at the expense of our offender's pain.
- Revenge is a satisfying way of securing our own justice.
- Lifelong, monogamous relationships are unrealistic.
- Affairs are as simple as physicality and sexual attraction.
- It doesn't matter why a relationship works, as long as it works.
Even the resolution of the storyline is extreme, almost whiplash-inducing. It skips or glosses over any kind of healing process. The film's conclusion is also a key source of conversation, especially with younger women in your life and church, because:
Most of the film's messages are directly opposite God's true heart and power.
I won't spoil the ending, but will mention that the film concludes at a point in each of the women's futures. Each woman has their own "happy ending," and each one merits thoughtful discussion about the movie's idea of resolution, in contrast to God's redemption.
I realize that it's tough for a two-hour movie (which is all pretend, anyway) to address such a complex issue as infidelity. But countless films that tackle a variety of real-life issues have successfully had a more positive impact on people than The Other Woman will.
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor is one that I highly recommend for people who see The Other Woman. It's a sobering counterbalance to The Other Woman’s superficiality. And until the church rises up with a movie that adequately demonstrates redemption – and, yes, laughter again, after adultery is dealt with – Perry's portrayal is one of the best I've seen.
On that note, some within the church will be tempted to simply decry The Other Woman. Before we do, it's time for the Church to either rise up or hush up. In all these years, among all the adultery-related movies that have been made since film was invented, none have been adequately created with a realistic and Gospel-centered message of hope and healing.
So before anyone rushes to tell Christians to not see The Other Woman, how about we assess our failure so far to offer a better film? In the meantime, let's leverage this existing resource – as flawed as it is – as an opportunity for dialogue.
Bottom line: if you go see The Other Woman, please be aware that the film's makers are interested in your entertainment, not your edification; they aim more at your funny bone than your heart. And judging from the awkward silences in the theater last Thursday night, even then they often missed their mark.
Rebecca Halton is the author of Words from the Other Woman: The True Account of a Redeemed Adulteress. She is also the co-founder of TeamRedeemed.org, which offers hope, encouragement and resources for people affected in different ways by adultery. She enjoys connecting with readers through social media, so please tell her how this review impacted you via Twitter or Facebook. Twitter: @rebecca_halton Facebook: www.facebook.com/ConnectWithRebecca
Publication date: April 29, 2014