Le Divorce

Le Divorce

*

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

What in the name of Helena Bonham Carter's guru of chic do Merchant/ Ivory think they're doing? Making an old-fashioned, oo-la-la, romantic comedy about a Frenchman walking out on his Californian wife when she's seven months pregnant is, in the words of his sophisticated aunt, "in bad taste".

Everything about the film is ill-judged, miscast and intellectually anorexic. Is it snobbishly critical of Americans abroad for being bullish when it comes to social behaviour? Or does Kate Hudson slip naturally into inch-deep roles that emphasise her flat chest and wide smile because she can't do anything else?

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The plot has so many avenues, you keep getting lost. Isabel (Hudson) comes to Paris to stay with her half sister, Roxeanne (Naomi Watts). At the very moment of her arrival, Roxy's artist husband (Samuel LaBarthe) leaves without the hint of an explanation. He's from an aristocratic family that takes such disturbances with a shrug, while determined to protect their name from any whisper of scandal.

Roxy is a poet, which is like saying J-Lo is a nuclear scientist. Watts looks more like a beach bunny from Bondi than a dedicated wordsmith. Glenn Close - standing in for Meryl Street? - appears as a famous writer, with long avant-garde locks and a yappy, floppy-eared animal in her lap. She's the one who has been around the block and understands the complexities of l'amour Francaise. "Lovers become a habit," she says. "You grow out of them."

Isabel behaves like a nice girl from Santa Barbara, who hasn't the faintest idea about European sexual mores. She is introduced to a student decorator, who happens to walk into a room, splattered with paint, and the next minute they're cuddled up in bed together. A day or so later, she's having lunch with Roxy's husband's uncle (Thierry Lhermitte) and he's talking of making her his mistress.

It gets worse. The artist left Roxy for a mad Russian, whose husband is an American entertainment lawyer. This guy, played so badly by Matthew Modine you wonder who spiked his croissant, is being driven insane by jealousy. Also, there is another irrelevant subplot, concerning a painting that may, or may not, be worth millions - enter Stephen Fry (thank God for large mercies!) as Christie's representative - which brings mom and pop (Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston) over to Paris for a double dose of clunky social gaffes.

Divorce is no laughing matter. Roxy slashes her wrists at one point, as if to say; "I'm hurting here," but director/co-writer James Ivory prefers to stay with Isabel, as she redefines the Gallic for gauche.

What purports to be a light souffle collapses under the weight of its own misconception.

"Too much smiling gets a girl into trouble," the student decorator says.

What else can Isabel do? Talk about Proust?

Reviewed on: 18 Sep 2003
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Le Divorce packshot
Rom-com centring two Americans in Paris.
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Director: James Ivory

Writer: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory, based on the novel by Diane Johnson

Starring: Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Thierry Lhermitte, Leslie Caron, Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Romain Duris, Samuel LaBarthe, Stephen Fry, Matthew Modine, Sam Waterston, Thomas Lennon, Bebe Neuwirth

Year: 2003

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US/France

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