Who’d have thought that skinny Cameron Diaz could kick Captain America to the curb so decisively? Not the box office pundit class, that’s for sure.
Predictions for Diaz’s new comedy, “The Other Woman,” were modest, with some experts foreseeing a debut as low as $ 13 million, or maybe $ 18 to $ 20 million at best. Instead, the film opened with an estimated $ 24.7 million, enough to dethrone “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” after three weeks on top (it earned an estimated $ 16.0 million).
Really, after such comedy hits as “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” and Diaz’s own “Bad Teacher,” it’s time for the experts to stop being surprised every time one of these risqué, female-driven comedies is a smash. They’re not standard romantic-comedy (or romantic-weepie) chick flicks, but they’re not flukes either. It’s a growing and evolving genre. And as the success of “Other Woman” — despite its lackluster reviews — suggests, it’s a genre with an ever lowering bar for entry into the hit movie club.
Of course, “The Other Woman” also had a few things going for it that helped it exceed expectations. Such as…
Timing. Not only did it open on a weekend that “Captain America” was finally on the wane, but it also opened opposite weak competition. The two other new movies were “Brick Mansions,” a small-scale action movie that looks like an afterthought or footnote in the late Paul Walker’s career (it opened in fifth place, with an estimated $ 9.6 million) and “The Quiet Ones,” a horror movie in a month already oversaturated with scary flicks (it opened in seventh place, with an estimated $ 4.0 million). Overall, this was a weak weekend at the box office, with revenue down about 14 percent from a week ago, so it didn’t take much for “The Other Woman” to step in and claim the top spot. A week later and the movie would have been flattened by “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
It also didn’t hurt that Thursday marked the TV debut of the sitcom version of “Bad Teacher,” which Diaz produces. Star Ari Graynor is a gifted comic actress, but she’s no Diaz, and seeing a retelling of the recent Diaz hit comedy without Diaz herself as its star may have whetted moviegoer appetites for the real thing.
Rating. Most of the recent successful raunchy comedies have come with a hard R rating for extremes of profanity, vulgarity, and sexually-themed material. (Oddly enough, however, they’ve included very little nudity.) The makers of “The Other Woman” apparently realized that you could do more or less the same thing with no nudity and very little profanity, get a PG-13 rating, and open their film up to a much wider audience. Not that the movie’s premise had a whole lot of appeal to younger audiences, but it at least had the benefit of attracting those older women who are squeamish about all the raunch that an R-rating implies.
Directing. Nick Cassavetes knows chick flicks, having directed Diaz in “My Sister’s Keeper” and having also directed a little cult film called “The Notebook.” Though he was largely unproven as a comedy director, he clearly knows how to bring women into theaters.
Casting. Diaz is the main draw here, with her ability to be sexy, vulgar, pathetic, vulnerable, and funny all at once. And having Sports Illustrated supermodel Kate Upton (in her first major role in a movie) as one of the protagonists may be bringing in some men who might otherwise have bristled at having to see a chick flick. There is eye-candy for the ladies, too, in the form of “Game of Thrones” star Nicholaj Coster-Waldau (as the cad cheating on all three women) and “Chicago Fire” star Taylor Kinney. And there’s even a cameo by pop star Nicki Minaj, whose ability to bring the crazy may have attracted rubbernecking viewers from all sexes and planets.
But the movie’s secret weapon is apparently Leslie Mann, as the woman who discovers her husband is cheating with both Diaz and Upton’s characters. She’s done fine work as brittle, high-strung wives and girlfriends in various movies made by her husband, Judd Apatow (particularly “Knocked Up” and “This is 40,”) but even in this ensemble, audiences are singling her out for her movie-stealing performance.
Bonding. The movie’s premise is familiar to anyone who’s seen the 1996 film “The First Wives Club,” with three women teaming up and taking revenge on their faithless exes. Here, they’re all taking revenge on one guy, but what’s noteworthy isn’t the vengeance plot but the fact that there are three female protagonists. When’s the last time you saw a movie with three female protagonists? (Yes, there were six women in “Bridesmaids,” but the focus was almost entirely on Kristen Wiig’s character.) You might have to go all the way back to “The First Wives Club” — 18 years ago. The bonding on-screen is reflected in the audience, since “The Other Woman” is less a date-night movie than a girls-night-out movie. Instead of couples, the movie’s audience was larger groups.
“The Other Woman” may not be anyone’s idea of an innovative film, but it does suggest an evolution is in progress for the raunchy, actress-driven comedy. Making it a little less raunchy and gearing it toward groups instead of couples are developments that clearly paid off here, so watch for other movies in the genre to follow suit.
After all, revenge is apparently a dish best served in family-size portions.
Photo courtesy Fox
Gallery | The Top 20 Female Comedy Teams in Movies
- 20. Parminder Nagra and Keira Knighley, “Bend It Like Beckham” (2002)
Fresh-faced performers Nagra and Knightley both became international stars as soccer teammates in this culture-clash sports comedy. Give director Gurinder Chadha credit as the third funny female on the squad. Not to mention Shaheen Khan and Juliet Stevenson as the players’ disapproving moms, both tradition-bound in their own way.
- 19. Halle Berry and Natalie Deselle, “B*A*P*S” (1997)
We’re so used to seeing Berry play wounded pride and righteous anger that it’s a shock to see her play loose and funny, as she does in this very silly Cinderella story about two homegirls who suddenly score a ticket to the glamorous life. Sure, it’s a long way from her usual prestige roles, but really, would you rather sit through the harrowing “Monster’s Ball” again than watch this?
- 18. Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler, “Big Business” (1988)
In this update of Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors,” Midler and Tomlin both play dual roles as two sets of mismatched twins who finally get to set things right during a random series of run-ins at New York’s Plaza Hotel. The actresses’ crack timing makes all the scenery-chewing go down easy.
- 17. Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Katharine McPhee, Rumer Willis, Kiely Williams, Kimberly Makkouk, and Dana Goodman, “The House Bunny” (2008)
Faris, who’s been the movies’ female comic MVP of the last decade or so, is an over-the-hill Playboy playmate (at age 27) who finds herself overseeing a college sorority of nerdy misfits and making them over, Hefner-style, into self-confident hotties. Even as a comic conceit, it’s pretty hard to buy the notion that Hefnerism actually offers practical and ethical guidelines for living, but Faris and her protégées manage to sell it.
- 16. Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable, “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953)
Monroe, Bacall, and Grable go downmarket as three hard-luck beauties determined to rise above their station by marrying for money instead of for love. But Cupid has other plans. The film is a reminder that these three performers were more than just pin-ups; they were smart and witty, too, and capable of rapid-fire repartee.
- 15. Shelley Long and Bette Midler, “Outrageous Fortune” (1987)
Long and Midler strike some sparks as a mismatched pair of amateur actresses (one uptight, one earthy) who learn that they were being two-timed by a spy who faked his own death. They reluctantly unite to hunt the bastard down, and there’s something liberating in watching these two characters, both pampered New Yorkers out of their depth, turn into badass, streetwise sleuths.
- 14. Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, and Hana Mae Lee, “Pitch Perfect” (2012)
The indomitable Wilson, as Fat Amy, gets most of the credit for making this choral comedy sing, but the movie’s harmonious, hilarious flow really is a group effort by the Bellas, the collegiate “Glee”-style singing group that goes for the gold here.
- 13. Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu, “Charlie’s Angels” and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” (2003)
Recognizing the camp value of the old ’70s babelicious-detective show, the version 2.0 Angels play the action and sleuthing mostly for laughs. It’s not enough that they have rockin’ bods and “Matrix”-style martial arts skills; they also are all endearingly goofy.
- 12. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953)
Monroe has one of her more iconic roles as golddigger Lorelei Lee, but jaded Russell holds her own opposite the doe-eyed Marilyn. Traveling together on a transatlantic cruise, each woman is a formidable femme fatale, breaking the hearts of feckless men with a wiggle in her walk and a song on her lips.
- 11. Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makkena, and Mary Wickes, “Sister Act” (1992
Goldberg was at the height of her popularity when she starred in this smash about a lounge singer on the lam who hides out in a convent and turns its drab choir into a Motown-fueled powerhouse. It’s mostly Goldberg’s show, but she gets reliable support from the ever-vinegary Smith and the irrepressibly perky Najimy (in her starmaking role). Besides, singing, dancing nuns are never not funny.
- 10. Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, “The First Wives Club” (1996)
Old pros Midler, Hawn, and Keaton team up to wreak comic vengeance on the feckless husbands who deserted them and the young hussies for whom the husbands traded them in. Hawn, in particular, is a hoot, sending up her own curiously ageless appearance.
- 9. Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths, “Muriel’s Wedding” (1994)
Aussie actresses Collette and Griffiths became international stars with their performances as two ABBA-loving misfits who show up their snooty high school tormentors, run away from home, and begin to blossom, only to get stomped on by reality. There’s a lot of surprisingly dark elements under the movie’s frothy-meringue surface, but Colette in particular is a force of nature whose willingness to look ridiculous keeps the comedy from fizzing out.
- 8. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, “Mean Girls” (2004)
Why do we still care about Lindsay Lohan? Because once upon a time, she was capable of turning out smart, stylish comedy work like her performance in this Tina Fey-scripted high school comedy. Plus, you have to give it up for the Plastics, including McAdams as evil queen Regina (a starmaking performance whose comic brio she’s never approached again) and Seyfried as wide-eyed ditz Karen (ditto). Oh, and note to Chabert’s Gretchen: Stop trying to make “fetch” happen. It’s not going to happen.
- 7. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, “Nine to Five” (1980)
Tomlin is the comic glue holding together straight-woman Fonda and scene-stealer Parton in this template for the modern female buddy comedy. Bonus points to Parton for writing and singing a catchy theme song that captures the antic mood of this workplace-revenge farce.
- 6. Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon, “Sex and the City” (2008) and “Sex and the City 2″ (2010)
The cosmo-swilling HBO gals’ first reunion was a surprisingly somber affair, but the second one, which sent them all the way to Abu Dhabi, was the kind of fizzy adventure they used to have, writ large. As usual, Samantha’s (Cattrall) brazenness makes for the wackiest shenanigans. Moms Miranda (Nixon) and Charlotte (Davis) enjoy a rare moment of drunken bonding over parenting gripes. Mostly, this is just a vicarious vacation among very familiar friends.
- 5. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, “Baby Mama” (2008)
Fey and Poehler are always a winning combo, whether at the “Saturday Night Live” news desk, the Golden Globes podium, or in this satire about an unmarried, uptight businesswoman (Fey) and her wacky, mischievous, pregnant surrogate. By the way, you know Melissa McCarthy’s infamous bathroom sink scene in “Bridesmaids”? Let’s give Poehler proper credit for going there first.
- 4. Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller, Gail Patrick, and Andrea Leeds, “Stage Door” (1937)
The original female buddy comedy was this look at an all-female rooming house full of aspiring Broadway actresses. Starchy Hepburn spars memorably with wry Rogers. They’re ably supported by future TV comedy icons Arden and Ball. Some dark dramatic moments late in the film remind you what talented actresses these stars actually were, but mostly, it’s about the sisterly moral support, usually in the form of a worldly wisecrack.
- 3. Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow, “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” (1997)
Sorvino and Kudrow are both priceless as the sole members of their clique of two, who’ve traveled from high school dorks to Los Angeles fashionistas without ever letting a negative or hostile thought penetrate their helmets of blond hair. For much of the movie, it’s just the two of them on the road, which is fine because they’re such delightful company that they’re all you need, and it doesn’t matter which one is the Mary and which one the Rhoda.
- 2. Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, and Brittany Murphy, “Clueless” (1995)
Cher (Silverstone) and Dionne (Dash) rule their posh high school like benevolent despots; making over Tai (Murphy) into one of them is their idea of volunteer work. Sure, this beloved update of Jane Austen’s “Emma” covers a lot of ground (shopping, boys, shopping), but at heart is the friendship among these three, even as they jockey for queen-bee status.
- 1, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, and Wendi McLendon-Covey, “Bridesmaids” (2011)
It’s mostly Wiig’s show, but everyone gets a chance to shine. (Of course, the Oscar-nominated McCarthy took her chance, ran it all the way for a touchdown, and spiked it in the end zone.) As a sextet, they make for an uneasy group of friends, but remember this: men and careers may come and go, but these six will always have the experience of horrifying food poisoning and its queasy consequences to bond them for the rest of their lives.
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