Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 27, 2004)
A few years back, both Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson popped into the scene as emerging stars. Watts scored in 2001’s Mulholland Drive, while Hudson earned an Oscar nomination for 2000’s wonderful Almost Famous. Since then, however, neither has quite managed to develop as prominent stars, though Watts did appear in The Ring, which produced a fairly decent hit.
Both women star together in the 2003 box office dud Le Divorce. With a gross of only $9 million, the movie came and went without much of an impact. (Hudson had a bad year, as her other big flick - Alex & Emma - only made $14 million.) Divorce starts as Isabel (Hudson) arrives in Paris to visit her pregnant stepsister Roxy (Watts). As Isabel arrives, however, Roxy’s husband Charles-Henri (Melvil Poupaud) takes a hike for reasons unknown.
As Isabel enters, Roxy covers for him and doesn’t admit that he ran away so suddenly. However, she quickly fesses up and relates the uncertain situation, and they head to the country to visit with his family, none of whom know of his departure. We meet Roxy’s extended family-in-law and they discuss issues of adultery during a meal, much to Roxy’s chagrin.
She soon gets a call from Charles-Henri, who asks her to bring him his contact lenses; she agrees and brings Isabel with her. This meeting concludes quickly, as Charles-Henri splits when Roxy’s friend Olivia Pace (Glenn Close) arrives. The American writer asks Roxy to help with a job, but Isabel takes on the task instead.
They get to know each other while Roxy deals with her split. Charles-Henri pursues a divorce, but Roxy opposes this. In the meantime, Isabel works with Mrs. Pace and quickly beds her artsy assistant Yves (Romain Duris). As she watches TV, she sees her uncle-in-law Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte) on TV and starts to fall for him. In the meantime, we learn that Charles-Henri’s having an affair with a Russian woman named Magda (Rona Hartner). She’s also married, and her psychotic husband (Matthew Modine) refuses to divorce her.
When she sees him on TV again, Isabel decides to call Edgar. He proposes that they get together, so they meet for lunch. She seems smitten and begins to lie to Yves as she ditches him. At another lunch with her, Edgar discusses whether or not she should become his mistress. She appears to like this notion and agrees.
From there they launch into their affair, all while Roxy suffers through the complications of her split. One major issue revolves around an apparently valuable painting owned by her family, as Charles-Henri seems to feel he can stake a claim to it as well. The rest of the movie follows these dual paths. We watch Isabel’s deepening relationship with Edgar and its issues as well as the end of Roxy’s marriage and all its complications.
I’d like to say that Le Divorce offers a charming, insightful look into relationships. I’d also like to say that Halle Berry constantly pesters me to make sweet love to her, but unfortunately, neither statement enjoys the slightest connection to the truth.
As I watched Divorce, I felt like I got all the worst parts of a bad Woody Allen flick transplanted to Europe. All of the staples of Allen’s more insufferable work appear here. We get the smarmy, smug and pretentious upper-class boors who babble about their theories and thoughts on life. These folks are just as obnoxious and self-involved as those in Allen’s movies, except they lack even the most remote sense of humor.
The DVD case touts Divorce as a “romantic comedy”, but I can’t find the slightest hint of either romance or comedy in this clunker. Actually, it presents much more as a serious drama; I mean, one character attempts suicide, and we also get a double murder, for God’s sake – how romantic or comedic is that? Part of film’s problems stem from the unlikable nature of the characters. I suppose Roxy seems sympathetic, but that’s about it, and even she gets on our nerves; she remains so apparently devoted to Charles-Henri – one of the world’s great cads – that she taxes our patience. The rest come off as selfish, rude, haughty, arrogant and/or oblivious to real life.
Isabel seems especially problematic, especially since the movie makes her more and more unlikable as it progresses. Divorce perseverates on the sexist nature of French society, which seems about as insightful as “cops like donuts”. I suppose the filmmakers think it’s clever that Isabel starts to adopt the nature of the stereotypical Frenchman as she cheats on and lies to Yves, but this simply serves to make her a cad, if that term can be used for a woman. Virtually all the characters come across as cartoons, and unlikable ones at that. They spend $900 on lunch, and the scene even makes the food like absurd!
If anything positive manifests itself in Le Divorce, I can’t find it. It isn’t funny, romantic, charming, involving, entertaining or insightful in the slightest. Instead, it just comes across as bland, pretentious and dull. Does anyone actually care about characters like this? I sure don’t, and Le Divorce forms a painful viewing experience.