Le Divorce (August 7/03)
Le Divorce is a light and airy concoction that marks a real departure for the producer/director team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, best known for period dramas like Howard's End and Remains of the Day. But it mostly works, primarily because it's a welcome respite from the overblown Hollywood summer movie season.
There's not much of a story here, but there are plenty of characters - far more than necessary. Naomi Watts stars as Roxeanne, an American living in Paris who - as the movie opens - is in the midst of splitting up with her husband, Charles-Henri (Melvil Poupaud). Roxeanne's sister, Isabel (Kate Hudson), has just arrived from the States for a visit and decides to stay indefinitely to comfort Roxeanne. It's not long before Isabel has piqued the interest of two very different men - the assistant of her new boss (played by Glenn Close), and an older man named Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte). Meanwhile, the ownership of a valuable painting that belongs to Roxeanne's family comes into question when Charles-Henri insists it's now legally half his.
The first thing one notices while watching Le Divorce is the emphasis on dialogue. It's something a viewer should be able to take for granted, but the majority of movies nowadays are suffering from the dumbing down of material to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Not that Le Divorce is particularly fresh or exciting - there's not much here that we haven't seen before - but that it's a film geared towards adult audiences is in itself something worth applauding.
There are two factors from preventing the film from becoming all-out enjoyable - overlength and too many characters. In regards to the latter, Le Divorce would have been far more effective had it focused on the two sisters and their relationships. The movie is based on the novel by Diane Johnson, and it seems fairly clear that very little has been exised from Johnson's work. The most obvious example of this appears in the form of a subplot involving Mathew Modine as Tellman, the irate ex-fiancée of the woman dating Roxeanne's ex-fiancée. While it was nice seeing Modine on the big screen again, his character winds up leading the story into an incredibly out-of-place hostage scenario atop the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps this worked better in Johnson's book, but here, it's more of a distraction than anything else.
Fortunately, this is a small aspect of the film - with the bulk of the story following Roxeanne and Isabel. It helps that Watts and Hudson make for convincing sisters, primarily because they both give better-than-expected performances. Watts, in particular, does a nice job of running through a gamut of emotions as the film progresses. The supporting cast has been filled with an eclectic bunch, from Sam Waterston to Stephen Fry, ensuring that there's almost always someone interesting on screen. And while the movie does occasionally suffer from an overstuffed plot, there's no denying that Le Divorce is consistently entertaining.