Profile: Norma Shearer as Jerry in The Divorcee

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I must admit, The Divorcee was a pleasant surprise. It seems that just before the Hayes code kicked in, Hollywood was capable of tackling some daring subject matter. (A particular line in the film, “I’d like to make love to you until you scream for help!” was a Scooby-Doo moment for me.) Equal parts daring, melodramatic, and ridiculously sexist, The Divorcee is a tale of infidelity and…(obviously) divorce, Norma Shearer stars as Jerry, a working wife who discovers her husband has cheated on her. The performance starts off a little bit slow for me; as Jerry is confined to playing a doe-eyed, blushing lady who’s madly in love with her husband. (She does play sweet and warm to a T.) The gears start turning once it is revealed to Jerry that her douchebag husband had an affair with another woman. Shearer has some good moments here and there throughout the film, and I found myself appreciating her acting ability as I had mentally written her off as an overrated and forgotten classical Hollywood star, but overall there was just a lack of pizzazz in the performance as a whole for me. She’s watchable yes, she does what she’s required to do at an average to above-average capability, but there was a colorless quality to her performance that I can’t quite put my finger on. This is by no means a bad performance; I just didn’t care that much, and whether or not that is the fault of the writing or the fault of Shearer’s acting I cannot say. I’m sure a different viewer would have thought she was great, but as I reflect back on the film and Shearer some time after my initial viewing, there’s nothing memorable that jumps to mind. For me Norma Shearer in The Divorcee simply falls into the gray area between love and dislike; I liked it fine but I won’t be scrambling to watch it again nor would I be thinking about it when asked about fine screen performances. It’s a good win, but one of many Best Actress wins that are fine but not exactly the “best”.

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