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'The Other Woman': Progress or predicament for female-driven film?

[On Monday mornings, Movies Now will be looking at some aspect of the No. 1 movie over the weekend. This week: What "The Other Woman" says about female-driven movies.]

Over the weekend, a trio of women finally dethroned a muscular superhero from his three weeks atop the box office as Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton's revenge comedy "The Other Woman" took in a healthy $24.7 million, beating out "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

Moviegoers, for their part, seemed to embrace "The Other Woman." Those who saw the film -- a whopping 75% of whom were women -- assigned the picture an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Many analysts felt that a smart marketing campaign by distributor Fox helped the opening weekend box office by pushing the film's over-the-top comic premise and its proven cast, especially Diaz and Mann.

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That would seem to be welcome news to anyone bothered by the underrepresentation of women and their stories in Hollywood movies. At a time when only 15% of protagonists, 29% of major characters and 30% of all speaking characters were female in last year's top 100 grossing films, according to a recent study, "The Other Woman" bucks that trend with women in a number of prominent roles.

On the other hand, the film isn't exactly a feminist parable, and in some ways is surprisingly retrograde in its depiction of women, raising the question of whether it's a case of one step forward and two steps back for female-driven movies.

"The Other Woman" stars Diaz, Mann and Upton as three women who are all unknowingly romantically involved with -- and in Mann's case, married to -- the same scheming lothario, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (TV's "Game of Thrones"). When they find out, the three secretly become friends and team up to exact their revenge on the man who wronged them.

Their retribution includes such crude but effective schemes as slipping laxatives into his cocktails, putting Nair into his shampoo bottle and spiking his juice with female hormones so he starts growing breasts.

As a number of reviewers pointed out (while lambasting the movie) that Diaz, Mann and Upton's characters are utterly obsessed with Coster-Waldau's cad, a guy with no redeeming qualities beyond his good looks. Despite the film's girl-power pretense, the three women fully devote their lives to this man. He becomes an even greater focus of their attention after they discover his infidelity, rather than them just moving on.

The Boston Globe's Ty Burr said the film "paints women as dingbats, dummies and scolds incapable of drawing a breath without a guy to validate them."

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Numerous observers have also pointed out that "The Other Woman" fails the "Bechdel test," an assessment created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in a 1985 comic strip to determine whether a movie features some semblance of significant female representation.

Passing the three-point test requires that a movie include at least two named female characters, that they have a conversation with each other at some point, and that their conversation isn't about a male character. While "The Other Woman" easily passes the first two criteria, it fails on the third count.

As NPR's Linda Holmes wrote: "Yyyyyyyup. That's right. 'The Other Woman' is 109 minutes long, and at no time do any of these women … pause for a discussion, even for a moment, of anything other than a series of dudes. … It is truly, no fooling, all they talk about for 109 minutes."

"The Other Woman" isn't above a bit of old-fashioned eye candy either, featuring a scene -- touted in the trailer, of course -- of Upton jogging in a bikini in slow-motion. Some would call it a nod to the famous Bo Derek scene in "10," while some would call it having your cake and eating it too.

Granted, "The Other Woman" is part of a long tradition of female revenge comedies, including "The First Wives Club," "Thelma and Louise" and "Nine to Five," and it has been positioned as an edgy slapstick comedy, not a treatise on third-wave feminism.

But just because a movie centers around women and has some raunchy jokes, many at a man's expense, that doesn't mean it represents progress.

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@ogettell

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