“Le Divorce” may look and sound like a glossy romantic comedy but it is instead an uneven take on the culture clash between America and France.
Kate Hudson plays Isabel, a California girl arriving in Paris to help her pregnant sister Roxy (Naomi Watts). But just as Isabel arrives, Roxy’s artist husband Charles-Henri (Melvil Poupaud) leaves. So Isabel and Roxy are set adrift in a culture and legal system that is, well, foreign to them.
Both are very drawn to France where, as American expatriate writer Olivia Pace (Glenn Close) says, you could write a book chapter just about the way French women wear their scarves. Isabel, who arrives in California pastels and shell jewelry, is soon exploring French culture just as Americans have done for centuries — she becomes romantically involved. And not with one Frenchman, but two — Olivia Pace’s young assistant and an elegant, distinguished, and wealthy older man who is Charles-Henri’s uncle Edgar (a very dapper Thierry Lhermitte). Edgar is very direct with Isabel, asking her to be his mistress and sending her an Hermes Kelly bag (a very expensive purse).
But Isabel and Roxy do not know how to deal with the subtlety and indirection of the rest of Charles-Henri’s family, led by his mother (Leslie Caron). They serve exquisite meals and make soothing comments, but do not provide any opportunities for Roxy to talk about her situation. Meanwhile, they appear to be plotting to have a painting hanging in Roxy’s apartment declared to be part of the marital assets to be divided in the divorce. Roxy says that the painting belonged to her family, who just loaned it to her for her apartment. But it now appears that the painting might be much more valuable than they had thought, and Charles-Henri’s brother brings in a curator from the Louvre to authenticate it as a Georges de la Tour.
The ambiguity of the painting’s provenance (three different experts come to see it and all have different opinions) and its status as a marital asset parallels the precariousness Roxy and Isabel experience in their relationships. Roxy wants Charles-Henri to stay with her and their daughter and new baby, but he is in love with a Russian woman whose American husband (Matthew Modine) is frantic with grief. Isabel has something of a French makeover through her relationship with Edgar, but it doesn’t quite take — Edgar has to keep reminding her that she is carrying the Kelly bag on the wrong occasions.
All of the performances sparkle and there are some witty and sharply observed moments. But the movie’s own perspective becomes too ambiguous, especially when it veers into a tragedy that throws everything out of balance.
Parents should know that the movie has mature themes, sexual references and situations, including adultery. There is some strong language. And there is an attempted suicide, a character who threatens other characters with a gun, and serious (off-screen) violence.
Families who see this movie should talk about the way the different characters see and react to the same things — for example, the painting, marital fidelity, discussion of sensitive topics. Is that due to differences in culture or to something else?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Amelie.