AUGUST 28, 2003
Divorcing Sense Pour La Satire du Paris
By Jeremy Mathews

“Le Divorce”
Fox Searchlight
Directed by James Ivory
Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and James Ivory, based on the novel by Diane Johnson
Produced by Ismail Merchant and Michael Schiffer
Starring Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Thierry Lhermitte, Leslie Caron, Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Melvil Poupaud
Rated PG-13
(out of four)

“Le Divorce” is the sort of film that would be a nice, harmless comedy if only it didn’t have some of the most absurdly uncharacteristic plot twists of the year.

The film is a standard examination of French and U.S. stereotypes, elevated slightly by some nice performances, with Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts in the main roles.

Hudson plays Isabel, an American who goes to France to visit her pregnant sister Roxy, who’s married to a Frenchman named Charles-Henri (Melvil Poupand). As luck would have it, he decides to leave her a few minutes before Isabel arrives.

Isabel dances with the man she sleeps with when she isn't sleeping with Thierry Lhermitte.  

The film proceeds as a mostly cute sex comedy that explores the differences between those rude French and those rude Americans. (They’re rude in different ways.) For example, Roxy makes the keen observation that no matter what you tell French people, even that your husband left you, they respond, “Of course.”

Her husband’s adultery, which led to the divorce when he fell in love with his mistress, isn’t as frowned-upon as leaving his wife, which is in bad taste.

The philandering Frenchman motif continues as Isabel starts a fling with Charles-Henri’s uncle (Thierry Lhermitte) after he point blank tells her, “We must decide if you will be my mistress.” With that aged charm and the gift of a purse from Hermes, she buys some French lingerie and jumps into the married man’s arms.

Meanwhile, a large portion of the film goes into an argument about whether or not Charles-Henri has a right to a family heirloom painting, which Roxy took to Paris to hang in the apartment. People are now suggesting that it’s a La Tour and worth a lot of money, and the Getty museum is interested in purchasing it. The pre-nuptial agreement said that everything is 50-50, but it’s supposedly in Roxy’s father’s name, so it’s unclear how the ownership issue came up.

Many of the scenes in the film have no purpose but to show pretty Parisian scenes and amuse, which is OK until the novelty of talking about the differences between France and the United States wears off.

Hudson is a talented actress, as evidenced in her performance in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” but has been spending time in pointless roles as of late.

While the meandering arguments can become tedious, watching the conflict unfold and resolve in a logical manner might have been interesting. Instead, the film avoids any real questions or character information with a climax straight out of a suspense film that skillfully makes all the dramatic issues go away.

Earlier, the film already jumped to an overly serious and out-of character event and then moved back to a sex farce. To radically shift tone twice—with little transition or explanation—crosses into absurdity. While such tone shifts can be a satisfying surprise in a lifeless film, they have to be done with logic and have a point. John Sayles pulled it off in the brilliant “Limbo” with a logical story and a situation that shifted and built on an already interesting character dynamic.

“Le Divorce” plays like its writers went to an ending factory and took the only one left that was set in Paris.

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