VOD film review: Husbands and Wives
Ivan Radford | On 03, Jun 2016
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow
Watch Husbands and Wives online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Just when you thought Woody Allen had nowhere else to take the faux-documentary after Zelig, along comes 1992’s Husbands and Wives, using the genre to get under the skin of relationships. Awkwardly stumbling around apartments to observe intimate arguments, Husbands and Wives exposes two marital breakdowns with a ruthless honesty – the kind of thing you’d expect from Noah Baumbach today. With its handheld cameras and quiet soundtrack, it’s like watching the real life story that inspired The Squid and the Whale 13 years later.
It seems even more honest given the director’s controversial split from 12-year partner and muse Mia Farrow, over his relationship with their adopted step-daughter. Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Farrow) have been married for years, but when their best friends, Jack (an excellent Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis), announce they’re splitting up, Judy and Gabe begin falling to pieces too.
Things get worse when Gabe, a professor of creative writing, starts to spend time with his 20 year old student, Rain (Juliette Lewis). Lewis, a seductive young poet who flicks her hair and wears low-cut tops, is a typical siren with a flair for drama – one scene sees her instigate a kiss in the middle of a power cut during a lightning storm.
The movie is billed as a comedy, but the whole piece is full of heart-wrenching drama; there are only three big laughs in the whole 110 minutes. The first sees Judy Davis’ wonderfully uptight divorcee struggling to welcome Liam Neeson’s amorous advances. He tries to compliment her home. “English pine. It’s the best,” he smiles. “I prefer French. My decorator screwed me,” she snaps back, wringing her hands. The second is unintentional, when Woody refers to a previous relationship with a woman called Harriet Harman. He describes her as “sexually carnivorous” – a statement that makes you think completely differently about the Labour Party. The third finds Rain reciting her list of past conquests. They’re all middle-aged men. “I began to worry I was just a symbol of lost youth unfulfilled desires,” she says.
By portraying her as such a provocative force, our sympathies end up lying with Gabe, seemingly absolving the frustrated husband of his age-jumping romance. In contrast, we actively dislike Pollack and his mid-life crisis, which sees him shack up with a health food nut before deciding to get back together with Sally. It’s hard not to compare the film’s perspective with Allen’s problematic life off-screen, but however autobiographical it may be, Husbands and Wives is blunt, insightful stuff.
Is love seizing your chance to be single? Or is it tolerating a partner’s flaws? Earnest monologues unravel the emotional mess at a controlled pace. Woody makes eye contact with the camera at the end, not letting himself off the hook. “Can I go now? Is this over?”