French knots 

A review of Le Divorce

Le Divorce (PG-13)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Unlike Diane Johnson's compulsively readable, best-selling novel, Le Divorce, the movie, isn't sexy enough to succeed as a romance and isn't funny or biting enough to succeed as a comedy.

It's more of a shiny Paris travelogue with an extramarital affair as the centerpiece. The stellar cast includes Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Glenn Close, Leslie Caron, Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts and Matthew Modine, but character development is held to a minimum. By the end of the film, we are mildly pleased by the attractive parade of faces, fashions, French interiors and monuments, but haven't lingered anywhere long enough to feel that anyone or anything of substance has passed.

The Merchant-Ivory production team, including screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, attempts to mine the material in search of the essential Franco-American cultural conflict and fails. Old World charm is pitted against New World consumerism as two families do battle over the marital property of their divorcing children. But really, we learn little about cultural differences except that the French are far more blas about infidelity and divorce and the Americans, well, these Americans basically love all things French.

The film opens with the airport arrival of California girl Isabel (Kate Hudson), in Paris to visit her pregnant sister Roxanne (Naomi Watts). Isabel's taxi arrives at Roxy's apartment just in time to intercept fleeing hubby Charles Henri who is running off to be with his Russian lover Magda.

Hudson is her usual sparkly self as Isabel, a beautiful young woman set loose in the love and lingerie capital of the world, but the gorgeous Watts is surprisingly bland, given neither righteous outrage nor despair to play as she stumbles through divorce, timorous and only slightly dazed.

Both Roxy and Izzy are invited to post-separation family dinners by Charles Henri's glamorous mother and family matriarch, handily played by Leslie Caron, in part because the French are civilized about such things, but also because grandma wants to make sure her little boy gets his legal 50 percent of the marital property when the divorce finally goes to court. Roxy cares only about one piece of property, handed down to her by her Santa Barbara parents, a painting that may or may not be a genuine Georges de La Tour.

Isabel takes a shining to Uncle Edgar, a middle-aged diplomat, very married and, awkwardly, her uncle-in-law once removed, and the two are soon sharing long lunches in expensive restaurants and afternoon trysts in his Paris apartment. The red alligator Hermes purse he gives her is a symbol to all who know him that she is his kept woman, but she proudly hauls it all over the city.

These two subplots vie for attention while a third lurks in the shadows. Matthew Modine is the disturbed, cuckolded husband of Magda who stalks Roxanne and her family in a desperate attempt to reverse the course of events. A scene at the top of the Eiffel Tower when he finally cracks up is awkwardly staged and placed, interrupting the frothy flow of the film while failing to create any dramatic tension.

Channing and Waterston appear about midway through the film to help their daughter keep the family heirloom, but their roles are negligible. Thomas Lennon has some amusing moments as Roxy and Izzy's upright brother, and the film pleasantly skips toward a pat conclusion. Paris, Hudson and the dinner plates all look great. Le Divorce goes down as easy as a bonbon --mouthwatering and sugarcoated and but hardly filling and barely interesting.

-- Kathryn Eastburn


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