Le Divorce Movie Review

Two American blondes discover the joys of Paris - love, heartache, and wearing scarves in a multitude of ways. The blondes are the Walker sisters of California, Roxy (Naomi Watts) and Isabel (Kate Hudson). As Le Divorce opens, Isabel has just arrived in Paris to stay with Roxy and help her out in the late stages of her pregnancy. As luck would have it, Isabel shows up just as Roxy's husband, Charles-Henri (Melvil Poupaud) is walking out on her and their young daughter. The highly moralistic Roxy refuses to give Charles-Henri a divorce, instigating a battle with his extensive, wealthy family, which is lorded over with queenly arrogance by his mother, Suzanne de Persand (Leslie Caron).

The conflict between the Walker and de Persand clans is meant to be only the backdrop for the film's marquee star, Kate Hudson, to strut her naïve self around Paris and fall in lust with Charles-Henri's uncle, the much-older Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte), a suave TV commentator. But it is this familial battleground that quickly becomes the more engaging storyline, especially after Roxy and Isabel's parents (Sam Waterston and Stockard Channing) fly in from California to help out in the negotiations. Waterston and Channing play their roles with effortless grace, establishing that they've been comfortably married for years by using only the slightest of gestures.

While the sight of Kate Hudson in any film except Almost Famous is usually the sign for moviegoers to duck and cover, that's not the case in Le Divorce. As usual, Hudson doesn't play a character so much as herself, albeit this time in increasingly jaunty new outfits, but as a rootless Californian of reasonable intelligence transplanted to Paris she fits just fine. The filmmakers have fortunately surrounded Hudson with a squadron of engaging performers, like those mentioned above, as well as Stephen Fry (Wilde), Bebe Neuwirth, and Glenn Close, all of whom have an amazing ability to appear and brighten things up just when the screenplay has begun to wander. Close is especially wonderful here, playing an expat American poetess with a sparkling smile and acidic wit - it's a fun kind of role that she rarely gets to play.

Le Divorce comes at a relatively opportune time, when American-French contretemps are still in people's minds but not so fresh that any France-set film would suffer a crippling backlash. The culture clash material - which is given considerably less importance here than it was in the more pedantic Diane Johnson novel the film was adapted from - is entertainingly peppered throughout the film and dead-on when skewering the more obnoxious aspects of both American and French behavior.

It's refreshing to see Merchant-Ivory (James Ivory is the director and co-screenwriter, Ismail Merchant the producer) being not only so topical, but so lighthearted. While never exactly making bad movies, the team hasn't been pursuing the most engaging of subjects recently. Le Divorce has a fluid, happy grace to it that few filmmakers would be capable of pulling off. Instead of trying to outdo Masterpiece Theater with occasionally stiff costume dramas, Merchant-Ivory seem to have found a different muse - and his name is Woody Allen.

Le panties.


Le Divorce Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, 2003


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