Le Divorce (2003)

MPW-8187In the film, Roxeanne is the humble American wife who takes care of her daughter and is pregnant, but when her husband leaves her on the eve of her sister Isabelle’s arrival, she finds she must struggle to pay for her apartment and daughters ballet lessons. Isabelle is quickly comfortable in the French culture but stands by Roxeanne, but when a painting they’ve inherited suddenly is caught between a rival family, they have to fight to take it home and received the money that’s rightfully theirs. “Le Divorce” is a study, a study of American values about love, life, marriage, divorce and the role of woman versus French values about the exact same topics. It’s a sort of America vs. France allegory set through a struggle between two families, a notion that is especially exercised in the scene in which Hudson, Watts and Thomas Lennon’s characters meet with the appraiser for dinner, and they all begin sparring with him in their knowledge of wines, cuisines, and just wit in general.

Thomas Lennon who is often very good and under-used is great in this scene and is great comic relief with quick one-liners and sheer inept mannerisms as he attempts to adjust to a different culture. The dinner scene is the perfect example of what the film represents, the uneasy and almost unrelenting dysfunctional relationship between France and America, our values, morals and sheer mannerisms clashing with one another, both almost attempting to outdo and out class each other, a relationship that will really never come to an end, and its transferred into two family’s struggle for a priceless painting that turns into a sort of Civil war between the two legacy’s. The two sisters inherited it, but Watts’ characters husband wants it to stay in France. Roxeanne is the American who prefers to live in France because she feels at home, but she’s always under minded and contradicted by her mother in law who criticizes her about everything and prefer she act more French as in manners, customs, and habits.

While there are a lot of characters mostly played by great actors, a lot of sub-plots and an almost scattered storyline, “Le Divorce” is a pleasing character study as we hop from one scene to another to another without a lot of smooth transition, but still a very involving story. France is a very intoxicating city, one that quickly envelopes the two female leads Roxeanne and Isabelle, Roxeanna whom refuses to leave France because she feels so at home despite being alienated by her family, and Isabelle whom quickly adapts to the city with cuisines, new looks and hairstyles, a new lifestyle as a mistress, and simply no matter how hard they try, they’re American values remain the same as they look on in shock at what France’s laws are, especially the unfair guidelines of divorce which favor the male more than the female. In a sense this fascinating film shows that regardless of how much you immerse yourself in the culture, you can still bring the values you learned from home to a foreign country. James Ivory of the famous Merchant Ivory filmmaking team creates a sort of love letter to France with some incredible scenery of the famous landmarks that we usually see, but here it’s nice to look at.

Roxeanna and Isabelle are paradoxes of one another, Isabelle being the American learning and falling in love with the French culture and Roxeanne the American who approaches France with a mundane attitude but has established herself within the city. For such a fascinating film with such a good cast, there are just too many scattered sub-plots in the film that either go unresolved, are just too boring, and take attention away from, what I felt, was the really interesting story with Watts’ character struggling to find her own balance in this foreign country. I was curious as to why Kate Hudson was the primary focus for advertising for this film, because her character is not likable, hardly interesting, and just plain annoying. Hudson in bland here as is her character whom we question from the beginning. Is she really in France to help her sister? If she declares she’s helping her sister, why does she have an affair with her brother in law’s uncle and act as a mistress? She’s a boring character in the film and it’s just annoying that she’d be the primary focus of posters because the film is hardly about her.

Her “self exploration” is tepid and shallow with only her affairs as her primary focus and her willingness to go to bed with men so easily, and what is with that hideous haircut she sports halfway through the film? That haircut alone made her character less likable because she just comes off as she’s desperately trying to look sophisticated. So along with Hudson there’s Matthew Modine who has a really tepid sub-plot as the obsessed jilted husband to Watts’ characters husband’s lover who just hovers around the cast and watches his wife for unknown reasons, and then there are people plastered throughout the film including Glenn Close as an art researcher, Stockard Channing who just has nothing to do here except play the mom, Bebe Neuwrith who basically has a cameo considering she’s listed in the credits, Sam Waterston who has nothing to do except play the inept father, and so on, and all sport subplots that are barely developed. There was no need to have so much sub-plots for one story. While, the ad campaigns for the film revolved around Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts has the most interesting character in the film with the most interesting storyline.

The two are half sisters here, but Isabelle isn’t as interesting as Roxeanne who is pregnant, forced to make money for her daughter and must battle her husband in an unfair system of divorce that favors the husband. She compares everything in France to America regardless of how long she’s lived there, and simply her uneasy relationship with the customs are a struggle for her. The simply gorgeous Naomi Watts glows in the film as the multi-dimensional character of Roxeanne, a woman who’s been put into a corner with her husband who’s managed to find love somewhere else which he proclaims as inspiration and pretends it’s an artistic French habit instead of simple adultery, the film is ranging with a lot of characters, some of whom don’t really progress beyond their concept, but this is a lot of fun when it wants to be, and fascinating when it wants to be, and a really interesting fascinating allegory about clashing cultures and values. While there are just too many scattered sub-plots with almost no character emphases, “Le Divorce” is a charming, involving, and very fascinating character study with great performances all around, but (my beloved) Naomi Watts steals the movie.