If the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala team is trying to convince anyone that they
can handle modern dramas as well as they have period pieces like "Remains of
the Day", they sorely need to go back to their drawing boards. While their
cast is first rate the vehicle in which they are put is moldy and fits less
than well. Okay, enough for metaphors.
One of this production team's abiding strong points is the visual and, here,
they do not let us down. Putting Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts together as
sisters is, perhaps, the peak grace note that marks this attempt at
a modern romantic comedy, followed by other visual accoutrements, like the
wardrobe, settings and photography. If only the story were up to that
standard of elegance and authenticity.
Beautiful Isabel (Kate Hudson) arrives in Paris to visit her sister Roxanne
(Naomi Watts) who is married and pregnant. She arrives just in time to
witness Roxanne's husband Charles-Henri (Melvil Pompaud) clearing out for
good with an adamant and incomprehensible determination not to explain his
The utter devastation of this affects the women, but at least Roxanne has
sister Isabel to commiserate with. Or does she? In a cut, Isabel is
in bed with a lover (Romain Duris). I said cut. We don't even get a
dissolve, let alone some intervening story development. But not to fret,
because this lover gets his due when Isabel, considered the level-headed one,
sees her sister's husband's married uncle Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte) spouting
forth on a TV political talk show.
Here, at least, we have an interlude. She and uncle Edgar dine together in
sheer elegance before he proposes a mistresshood. For her, it's only a
matter of logistics, and this scandalous liaison is quickly consummated and
enjoyed by both.
As for poor Roxanne's storyline, she pursues the mystery of hubby's
motivations until she catches him with his life's chosen one (or some such
drivel), a lady by the name of Magda (Rona Hartner) whom she sees from a
Distance is the theme from there on as we witness these beautiful people in
close ups that provide no closeness nor contact. When Roxeanne decides to do
herself in, as in suicide, we need wait but briefly for her mental state to
resume its dithering ways. In the hospital bed she's sniffing roses and
considering names for her baby.
The rest of the cast is as wasted, featuring Glenn Close as a frightfully
bewigged famous poet who is Roxannes's supposed muse and role model. Then,
for laughs, there's Magda's abandoned husband (Matthew Modine) a lawyer
turned into a stalker, pestering Isabel instead of the wife that spurned him.
Why? Well because it's Isabel who is on screen. So, this reprobate from a
pulp horror movie is borrowed for a little offbeat high drama.
Bebe Neuwirth as an art appraiser in a minor role adds her considerable class
to the desparately lost comedy of misjudgments and incongruities. Stephen
Fry is used for some outsized character splash as a rep for auctioneer
Christie's (the plot revolves partly around a painting by La Tour amidst all
the sex banter) and Leslie Caron comes close to the villainy of a rich
matriarch with little patience for American vivacity.
We ask ourself over and over, how could the esteemed Ivory-Merchant go so
wrong? Maybe they're just too fuddy-duddy to handle the themes of modern
romance. Beyond the visual "sense", this baby is nonsense.
~~ Jules Brenner