Yesterday afternoon I expressed a combination of concern and confusion about Nick Cassevetes having directed The Other Woman (20th Century Fox, 4.25), which has been sold as a broad downmarket farce about three pissed-off ladies (Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton) making a sociopathic philanderer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) pay for his sins. It just seemed a little beneath the director of Alpha Dog, She’s So Lovely and The Notebook. What could this possibly do for his career? On top of which the views of a majority of Rotten Tomatoes Australian critics seemed to underline that the film had problems. But then I saw it last night at the Westwood premiere and realized that (a) I’d been flim-flammed by Fox marketing and (b) some of the Aussies had it wrong.

(l. to r.) The Other Woman costars Leslie Mann, Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton prior to last night’s Westwood premiere screening.

Taken last night following The Other Woman premiere at the Village.

I’m not doing cartwheels here but I am saying, no lie, that about 70% or 80% of The Other Woman isn’t half bad. I was expecting rank stupidity, but I mostly didn’t get that. It’s not a great film or on the level of Mike NicholsWorking Girl or anything, but it’s a lot better that the marketing has indicated. It’s a tiny bit spazzy and silly and predictable in spots — some of it doesn’t work as well as it could or should. But a lot of it is smart and loose and improv-y and on the low-key side. Dumb comedies sometimes piss me off, but not this one. Mann and Diaz and costar Taylor Kinney get into the spirit and carry it aloft and just about bring it home. Woman is almost never conventionally broad, certainly not in the painfully slapstick sense that I was dreading. Melissa Stack‘s screenplay is fast and clever. For me it was no-laugh-funny but a lot of people around me were chuckling and guffawing all the way through.

My humble apologies to Cassevetes and Stack and producer Julie Yorn for having said what everyone on the planet with a brain has been saying, which is who wants to see a comedy aimed at girly-girls who laugh uproariously in bars after having had two glasses of wine? The Other Woman is not a Lubitsch-level classic, but it’s considerably better than what’s been sold. I’m not saying it isn’t lame at times and that the ending isn’t disappointing but it’s not a burn.

There’s even a slight tribute to Warren Beatty‘s “Let’s face it, I fucked ’em all” meltdown scene in Shampoo at the very end when Coster-Waldau more or less confesses his shortcomings in the same vein.

Here’s how I put it to a friend at Fox this morning:

“The Other Woman trailer has been selling this fairly bright, engaging, smartly-written film as a dumb-down experience. The trailers prepare you for a downmarket boilerplate farce, and yet the film, while no classic, is much brainier and fleet of foot and unusual of attitude than you might expect. So much so that the Other Woman trailer, which apparently made itself, deserves to be regarded as one of the most cynical Big Lie trailers I’ve seen in ages.

“The Fox guys who made this thing presumably said to each other, ‘We might have trouble selling a fairly smart, adult-flavored, occasionally improvisational, unusual-in-this-and-that-respect comedy, but we CAN sell a dumb revenge comedy aimed at not-so-bright women so let’s do that!”

“I guess on a certain level I was pleased with the film because it was so unlike the dumb comedy trailer that was put together, so in an offbeat sense it prepared me. But I’m amazed at the chutzpah. ‘Fuck what this movie actually is,’ the campaign essentially declares. ‘We’re going to sell what this movie can be made to seem like if we only use the clips with the broadest farcical slapsticky elements.’

“For all I know selling The Other Woman to not-so-bright girls will result in it making a lot more money than if the trailers had sold what it actually is. But what a deranged and cynical thing it is to feel you have to try and mischaracterize and basically degrade a film is in order to sell it to the hordes.”