"Le Divorce" - Movie Review
- Friday, August 08, 2003
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements and sexual content)
Release Date: August 8, 2003
Actors: Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Glenn Close, Stockard Channing, Matthew Modine, Sam Waterston, Leslie Caron, Thierry Lhermitte, Bebe Neuwirth
Director: James Ivory
Special Notes: In my book, "Death by Entertainment," I wrote a special section on "life imitating art." I told how many historical and unusual events take place on (or near) the date a movie is released ("The China Syndrome", "Wag the Dog", "Primary Colors") and somehow the events imitate or coincide with the news. Sure enough – the last week of July, the top of the Eiffel Tower caught on fire. "Le Divorce" takes place in Paris, so naturally one of the pivotal scenes takes place on top of the Eiffel Tower. Coincidence or life imitating art?
Plot: This is a romantic journey of Isabel Walker (Kate Hudson), a young American woman who decides to visit her pregnant sister Roxy (Naomi Watts) in France and arrives in a world turned upside down by her sister's divorce and scandal. As Isabel consoles her sister about her adulterous husband, she in turn decides to have an affair with a French diplomat (Thierry Lhermitte) who happens to be related to the family of her sister's estranged husband. When the parents (Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston and Leslie Caron), a former lover (Glenn Close) and a jilted husband (Matthew Modine) get involved, Parisian life heats up and soon a valuable painting, a crime of passion and scandal involve everyone.
Good: Based on the best-selling novel by Diane Johnson, this is a modern twist on the classic American-in-Paris theme, highlighting the differences between the French and American cultures. There are several things to enjoy about this movie beyond the joy of watching Hudson and Watts have a realistic sister relationship. I was delighted to see the original "Gigi," Leslie Caron, as the wonderful French matriarch defending her wealthy family against an American in Paris. This is a story about two very different cultures that seem to approach love and life in complex and opposite ways. One thing that both sides defend to the end is their family. The story focuses on the fact that to the French, marriage doesn't necessarily have anything to do with romance. But to Americans, marriage and family are important enough to uphold. And that's what Roxy does throughout the movie. Even in a scene where a friend of the family tries to get romantic with her, she openly tells him she is not divorced and couldn't have a relationship with him until she is. It was refreshing to see an honest and bold character stand for principles in a country and setting where those principles seemed archaic and out of fashion. Although Roxy is thrown into turmoil and grief – enough to attempt suicide – she eventually seems to settle into the reality that's facing her and becomes a stronger woman in the movie's second half, defending her stand for marriage and fighting for the sake of her daughter and unborn child. There's a lot happening in this movie and although it gets sort of bogged down in the details, there's a nice subplot involving a painting that might possibly be from an authentic French master and a crime of passion (that truthfully seemed a little out of place) that neatly wraps up the story in the end.
Bad: You'd think with all of the Merchant/Ivory Oscar talent behind this movie, it would be a great film. In the end, we get an incredible ensemble cast, beautiful scenery and a wise lesson about love and divorce. While Watts delivers a strong performance, playing a character with convictions about marriage, Hudson's character is less principled and portrays a sort of simple-minded woman who's curious about having an affair with a married man and pursues it despite awkward family ties. The French seem to have institutionalized the idea of adultery and have elevated mistresses to a cult status that rewards the willing with $18,000 red alligator bags and expensive designer scarves. Isabel soon discovers that her sexual favors can be nicely rewarded with expensive gifts, fancy restaurants and a lover's apartment in which to play house. From practically the first scene when we see Isabel in bed with an acquaintance of one of her friends to the point where she breaks up with her lover in an anti-climactic emotionless moment without much fanfare, I liked her character's morals less and less.
Bottom Line: I enjoyed watching this movie because of the ensemble of interesting characters and light comedy. It is still amazing to me to watch Kate Hudson on screen and catch glimpses of her mother (Goldie Hawn) as she speaks or looks at the camera in a certain way. She's adorable and tries hard, but she still has a ways to go to make me forget she's her mother's daughter. Parents, language and a couple of implied sexual situations (nothing graphic is shown) make this an adult comedy that's not for kids.
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