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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Divorce American Style (1967)



Reviews and Comments

It's early evening. A conductor steps up to the podium, overlooking a dormant town, raps for attention, and with a sharp downward motion, commences a symphony of domestic bickering. Thus begins Divorce American Style, a fiendishly witty comedy about a typical married couple going through a divorce. It sounds like one of those comedies that are constantly sidetracked by a lot of heavy drama, but it isn't. It manages to portray a range of real human emotions while remaining lighthearted, making us laugh at them and care about them at the same time.

The charm of this film is that so many scenes operate like comic dances. For instance, there's a scene where the husband (Dick Van Dyke) and the wife (Debbie Reynolds) go through the usual nightly rituals getting ready for bed. While getting undressed and washing up aren't normally as exciting as all that, the scene is one of this film's best. Not a word is spoken; the characters move briskly through the motions, ignoring the other yet all too aware of the other's presence and using whatever subtle means they can to express their dissatisfaction.

A more verbal comic dance involves a scene with bit player Tom Bosley, who introduces Reynolds to an assortment of men and women and children tangled in a series of unending marriages and divorces, yet which operate like a single giant heaving dysfunctional family that can't keep track of itself.

The script, incidently, is intelligent and insightful. Occasionally, the battle-of-the-sexes dialogue seems very much a product of its time, but a great portion of it is profound advice that the modern world would do well to heed. This is comedy at its blackest, where the humor is irrevocably bound to painful truths about the state of society. Fortunately, this film has a solution, and that allows it to end on an upbeat note.