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
(out of four)
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.
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.
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.
dances with the man she sleeps with when she isn't sleeping
with Thierry Lhermitte.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Divorce” plays like its writers went to an ending factory
and took the only one left that was set in Paris.