Le Divorce

While stumbling around, befuddled and confused after seeing “Le Divorce,” knowing it was intended as a comedy but failing to see what parts anyone thought would be funny, I discovered what I think may be the source of the problem.

The movie comes from the famed dull-film partnership of producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory (who wrote it, too, adapting Diane Johnson’s novel). The two men are 66 and 75, respectively, and maybe this makes me an ageist, but when was the last time you saw a 75-year-old man direct a movie that was truly funny?

“Le Divorce” is a tedious, unbearably slow-moving examination of the social and sexual habits of the French. Kate Hudson stars as Isabel Walker, an upper-class Californian visiting her sister in Paris. The sister, Roxy (Naomi Watts), has married a Frenchman, Charles-Henri (Melvil Poupaud), who walks out on her just as Isabel arrives. (I mean this literally: He takes her cab as she vacates it.)

No one, including Charles-Henri’s family, knows why he has left Roxy, but the answer soon becomes clear: There’s another woman, and Charles-Henri wants le divorce referred to in le title. There are a lot of “other women” in the film, and apparently in French society; before you know it, Isabel has become the mistress of Charles-Henri’s uncle (Thierry Lhermitte), even though he’s married and she’s dating a hairy French fellow her own age named Yves (Romain Duris).

At several points, the film rises up against its cruel master and attempts to introduce plot devices that will result in entertainment. There’s a painting belonging to Roxy’s family that Charles-Henri might want in the settlement that might be a lost George de la Tour piece. Also, a character makes a suicide attempt. Additionally, there’s some drama atop the Eiffel Tower. But in each instance, Ivory swiftly quashes the uprising and tamps the film back down into tepid submission. The painting angle keeps getting tossed by the wayside, the suicide attempt is quickly handled, and the Eiffel Tower thing comes late in the game and is silly anyway. Thank goodness! If any of those threads had been developed, we might have begun enjoying ourselves!

The film isn’t unfunny the way a Martin Lawrence film is unfunny, where you can tell the parts they THOUGHT would get laughs but just don’t. With this movie, I can’t even tell which parts anyone thought would be funny. Where, in the process of filming and post-production, did Ivory or Merchant ever say, “Oh, yes, that’s funny. Audiences will enjoy that”? I’m truly puzzled at the notion.

Sure, there’s the odd chuckle or smile of amusement here or there. But in all, this is far from being a comedy. It is instead a bland, ponderous drama, albeit a light one, that seems determined not to give the audience anything to latch onto. Merchant and Ivory have done it again!

D+ (1 hr., 57 min.; PG-13, some mild profanity, mild sexuality, mild violence.)