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