Natalie Portman’s recent box office assault is continued with the DVD release of the lesser known Love and Other Impossible Pursuits repackaged under the title The Other Woman. Don Roos’ adaptation of the novel of the same name recounts the tale of young lawyer Emilia Greenleaf (Portman) and her personal struggles following the sudden death of her newborn daughter.
The feature opens as we are introduced to Portman as the ‘homewecker’ subject who is collecting her stepson from school under the intense scrutiny of distrusting mothers and wives. Her relationship with stepson William (Charlie Tahan) is perceptibly frosty and his blunt nature gives an immediate question over whether he is knowingly cruel or youthfully naïve.
Intermixed with flashbacks, the narrative reveals that Emilia was once an aspiring legal assistant who set her sights on her boss, the married Jack Woolf (Scott Cohen) – William’s father. As they embark on an illicit affair, Emilia becomes pregnant with Jack’s child, prompting him to leave his wife and marry his mistress.
However, fate deals a crippling hand when their newborn daughter dies in Emilia’s sleeping arms days after her birth. As Emilia attempts to process her grief, a strain is placed on her relationship with Jack and the already struggling bond with William. It becomes apparent that she holds her father in contempt for his adulterous turns during his marriage to her mother and this is compounded by her struggles with Jack’s highly respected ex-wife Doctor Carolyn Soule (Lisa Kudrow) who is understandably angry and bitter towards Emilia and clings to William through imposing a controlling presence over his life.
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is a poignant look at the relationships of a non-traditional (but more frequently representative) family and the complex perspective of the mistress trying to fit into an existing family unit. Rather than demonstrating Emilia as a soulless siren, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits questions the immediate judgements, especially of people in this situation and that after all, Emilia is still ultimately human and hurts, loves, laughs and cries like anyone else.
Roos’ artistic eye and compelling screenplay do leave the audience wanting to delve deeper into what circumstances have preceded this situation and to discover the emotional impact that the death of Isabel has had on everyone we are introduced to. The success of delivering this is a result of some inspired casting with Natalie Portman and Lisa Kudrow demonstrating the serious side to their repertoire with great success.
Portman portrays the emotional anguish of Emilia well, impressively committing to the emotional tirades at stepson William when his naivety reignites the memory of her lost daughter. The scenes where Emilia tries desperately to bond with William are also delivered powerfully and the joy this blossoming relationship brings her is tangible in the moments where she succeeds.
It is expected that, at face value, the audience will automatically side with the scorned wife over the temptress. However, through Lisa Kudrow’s presence, the message of appreciating the complexity of the situation is hammered home. Excelling as the jilted spouse, Kudrow depicts the anger, jealousy and bitterness inherent in her character brilliantly, struggling to cope with being replaced in the affections of her husband and trying to cling on to her son whilst attempting to poison his mind against his new stepmother.
Scott Cohen struggles with a character who is pivotal to the situation but far from the focus of the feature and suffers from less opportunity to establish a voice amongst the opposing women in his life. Charlie Tahan also turns in a performance displaying maturity beyond his years. Tahan exquisitely depicts a child trying to find his way despite his guardians being pre-occupied with bickering and he excellently fulfils the role of emotionally rocked William whose intellect far belies his age.
Unfortunately, once the circumstances of Isabel’s untimely demise are revealed and have been investigated, there is very little logical place for the narrative to go, resulting in somewhat of an anti-climax. However, this is only a minor detraction on a beautifully crafted adaptation, handling love, life, grief and loss with great care.
Best performance: Lisa Kudrow – Displays a rarely seen serious string to her bow excellently allowing the audience to both sympathise with and chastise her character in equal measure.
Best scene: Devastatingly crafted, the death of Isabel tugs on more than a few heartstrings of the onlooking viewers.