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James Ivory
Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Jean-Marc Barr, Leslie Caron, Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Romain Duris, Stephen Fry, Samuel Labarthe
Writing Credits:
Diane Johnson (novel), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory

Everything sounds sexier in French.

Kate Hudson (Almost Famous) lights up the screen as Isabel, a film school dropout who jets off to Paris when her pregnant step-sister Roxy (Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive) is abandoned by her husband. Soon, Isabel has a scandal of her own when she falls for an older man who's related to Roxy's cheating husband! This stylish romantic comedy by the acclaimed Merchant Ivory team (The Remains Of The Day) features a top cast, including Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Matthew Modine and Bebe Newirth.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$516.834 thousand on 34 screens.
Domestic Gross
$9.074 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 1/27/2004

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Le Divorce (2003)

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.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus F

Le Divorce appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. The image was generally solid but only moderately above average for a modern flick.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. A few shots demonstrated some mild softness, but those examples occurred infrequently. The majority of the movie looked nicely distinctive and well defined. I noticed no issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering, but some light edge enhancement occurred at times. Print flaws included sporadic examples of specks, but otherwise the image looked clean.

Colors seemed fairly natural and well depicted. At times they came across as a little pale, but the tones mostly demonstrated vivid and concise hues. Black levels were similarly positive and deep but not exceptional. Low-light shots seemed too dark at times. For example, the shot of Isabel and Yves in bed appeared rather dense and tough to discern. Most of the movie was positive, but the image seemed a little lackluster.

Similar thoughts greeted the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Le Divorce. Unsurprisingly, this chatty flick presented a soundfield with a heavy forward emphasis. The surrounds kicked into action to provide decent ambience but little more. Those elements contributed a fair sense of atmosphere, usually for street scenes. In the front, the mix featured decent stereo imaging for the music, while the effects spread naturally to the sides. Not much happened here, but the audio was satisfactory for this sort of flick.

Audio quality seemed fine. Speech was consistently accurate and firm. I noticed no problems like edginess or a lack of clarity. Music appeared bright and acceptably lively, with reasonably good range. Effects mostly played a minor role, but they sounded acceptably detailed and distinctive and also offered decent bass when appropriate. Nothing much of the soundtrack stood out, but this was a workable mix overall.

Somewhat surprisingly, Le Divorce includes absolutely no supplements. It doesn’t even present a trailer! Given the film’s box office failure, I didn’t expect a packed special edition, but it seems odd that we get nothing at all.

Le Divorce makes the French look so bad that it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t created by the same geniuses who touted “Freedom Fries”. Granted, it serves everyone poorly, as Americans act like jerks as well. The movie lacks any sense of depth or personality and simply comes across as a pretentious and drab character drama with no insight or spark. The DVD presents acceptable but unspectacular picture and sound but totally omits extras. Do yourself a favor and skip this atrocious piece of trash.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 10
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