Le Divorce (2003) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, mature thematic elements and sexual content
Running Time: 117 min.

Cast: Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Thierry Lhermitte, Leslie Caron, Glenn Close, Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Melvil Poupaud, Stephen Fry, Matthew Modine, Bebe Neuwirth, Thomas Lennon, Romain Duris   
Director: James Ivory

Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory
Review published May 24, 2004

Somewhere in the confines of Le Divorce is an entertaining film yearning to get out.  Sadly, it is not to be, as the Merchant-Ivory team fail to deliver their usual whimsical charm, seeming uncomfortable with the much more modern material than they are accustomed to bring us.   Although it's an adaptation of Diane Johnson's novel of the same name, perhaps Ivory would have been better off completely overhauling the plot to include less characters and about two less concurrent storylines, as what might have been an interesting story about the end of marriage as it exists in France, ends up taking too many side roads, and hitting far too many dead ends as a result.

Kate Hudson (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Alex & Emma) stars as Isabel, traveling to Paris to visit her older sister Roxeanne (Naomi Watts, The Ring), who is in the middle of a divorce with a young Frenchman.  Roxeanne is has one daughter and a baby on the way, and doesn't want to divorce, but finds she must, leaving her devastated emotionally.  Matters only become worse when she discovers the French divorce laws seem unfair to a woman in her position, and the family heirloom, a little known painting by a well-known artist, is up for grabs a part of the settlement.  While Roxeanne is trying to keep herself together, Isabel goes off gallivanting with a French politician (Lhermitte, The Dinner Game), finding an attraction to the casual attitudes regarding having mistresses, but she is uncomfortable with her position when she wants to be more than a sexual companion.

Le Divorce is a professionally made movie, with likeable actors, good direction, and some nicely written dialogue that works well in certain key scenes.  It is at its best when dealing with the culture clash between the American cast and the French, the former looking down on matters of sexual indiscretion, while the latter prefers never to speak of anything relating to money.   However, the dalliance of Hudson and Lhermitte takes up much of the screen time away from the main story, which wouldn't be so bad if it didn't prove to be mostly inconsequential thematically to the overall tale.  A third major plot point is later introduced involving Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Short Cuts) and his stalking of his crazy Russian wife, who happens to be having an affair with Roxeanne's husband.  The last several scenes deal with his cracking from the pressure of it all, and what was once a light, occasionally interesting comedy quickly transcends down the path of the absurd.

Le Divorce offers much to like, but carries too much overhead, constantly shifting away from the main plot to explore areas that aren't interesting or necessary.  It's a missed opportunity, although I'm sure it won't be the last time we see the battle between American vs. French sensibilities done in films.  Like a real divorce sometimes is, Le Divorce is messy, uncomfortable, and once it starts getting really ugly, everyone involved can't wait for it to end.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo