Review

Le Divorce Review

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Aug 08, 2003 | 4:26am EDT

Based on the best-selling novel by Diane Johnson Le Divorce gives a rather uninteresting take on the classic American-in-Paris theme. Fresh off the plane from sunny California Isabel Walker (Kate Hudson) arrives in Paris to stay with her expatriate and pregnant sister Roxanne (Naomi Watts) who has just been dumped by her French husband Charles-Henri de Persand (Melvil Poupaud). While helping her brooding sister get through a very difficult--and very French--divorce Isabel manages to also embark on her own fling with Charles-Henri's older uncle Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte) an important French diplomat. Scandalous as this affair is what complicates matters further between the free-spirited Walker sisters and the rational Persand family is a painting Roxy took with her to Paris. It is discovered to be worth millions of dollars and by French law might fall under Charles-Henri's settlement in "le divorce" even though it belongs to Roxy's family. But then an unexpected crime of passion rocks the two families and ends up washing away the bitterness and opening up a better line of communication between the two cultures. Unfortunately at this point you're only thinking about getting a cup of coffee to wake yourself up.

Le Divorce has a cast of thousands who all do an adequate job but also do nothing to make themselves stand out. Being the bubbly blonde Californian suits Hudson to a tee because er that's who she is but somehow Hudson misses the mark when trying to show how Isabel blossoms with French influence. As lovely as she can be Hudson seems sorely out of place. Watts on the other hand fares a little better as the wounded Roxy but doesn't get nearly enough to chew on. Since blowing audiences away in Mulholland Drive Watts has been careful to choose interesting roles including her lead in the horrific The Ring. Yet with Le Divorce it's obvious she signed on because of the talent attached rather than looking at how bland Roxy truly is. The rest of the cast list is impressive: the exquisite Leslie Caron as the Persand matriarch; solid character actors Sam Waterston and Stockard Channing as Roxy and Isabel's parents; the always good Glenn Close as an American writer in Paris (sooo cliché); even Matthew Modine shows up as a jilted American husband gone mad. Yet with all these great actors the performances and relationships between characters can't elevate the film from being stuck in dullsville.

Coming from the Oscar-winning trio of producer Ismail Merchant director James Ivory and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Howard's End A Room With a View) one would expect something a little more meaty from Le Divorce. The story is right up their alley revolving around colliding cultures and foreigners in faraway lands--minus the period costumes. Le Divorce also looks wonderful capturing the spirit of gay modern-day Par-ee. Yet this is one time where the filmmakers seem to have stuck just a little too closely to the book. It feels like you are reading a novel rather than watching a movie. Sure in a book little vignettes work when you are piecing things together on your own. But a film with so many individual subplots floating around needs a central through-line to hold it together and make it a cohesive story. Is Le Divorce about how Americans perceive the French and vice versa? Or is it about two American women and how they deal with their relationships with men who just happen to be French? Choosing one of these as the driving force would have made the film far more interesting. Instead in mixing them up Le Divorce simply loses the audience's attention--quickly.

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