Husbands and Wives
1992 Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Judy Davis, Sydney Pollack, Juliette Lewis, Liam Neeson.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 18, 1992
Husbands and Wives deromanticizes modern love, revealing it as a human condition ultimately motivated by logic rather than impulse: the heart may flutter or bleed, but it's a resilient, flexible muscle that can adapt to the most exigent of circumstances. It challenges the perception that love is an irrational gesture over which the intellect has no control, depicting its characters as individuals who make choices when it comes to affairs of the heart. Although it sounds fashionably cynical, Husbands and Wives is spectacularly human in its depiction of the vagaries of contemporary relationships, finding perverse strength in those things we so often attribute to weakness. A film about the troubled relationship of two New York couples, it's Allen's Scenes From a Marriage, his 1990s urban meditation on Gabe & Judy & Jack & Sally. Whether it's sexual dissatisfaction, a desire for independence, or nothing more than boredom, the characters fumble in the dark of their own emotions when facing relationships that don't suit them anymore. Temptation comes in the form of “the other,” i.e., that which we don't have but nevertheless want: the precocious college student with a thing for older men; the sensitive colleague from work who yearns for a traditional relationship; the fit aerobics instructor attuned to her body but not her mind. Husbands and Wives ponders the mystery of why human beings invariably view the grass as greener on the other side, as well as the puzzle of why some find out for themselves while others don't. Allen directs the film in mock cinema vérité style, as a documentary replete with disorienting jump cuts and dizzying pans with a hand-held camera. Unabashedly amateurish, this seemingly facile device nevertheless works because it gives Allen the chance to do something extraordinary. Periodically, he depicts characters confessing their true feelings to or discussing others in the film with an unseen interviewer, presumably the documentarian. These interludes peel back the first layer of perception and allow you to see the truth behind the facade, both with respect to what you've already seen and will see. Allen's insightful screenplay presents his most fully realized characters since Hannah and Her Sisters. Davis and Pollack are both superb as the couple who can calmly separate out of a desire to experience the single life, only to find themselves ultimately lost in their newfound freedom. Davis is quickly becoming the movies' most accomplished actress, given her recent bravura roles in Barton Fink, Naked Lunch, and now, Husbands and Wives. A scene in which she goes out on her first date after discovering her husband has moved in with another woman three weeks into the separation is a performance in itself, full of rage, panic, and humor. Allen and Farrow are believable, comfortably so, as the husband and wife who can't seem to find a reason to stay together in the wake of their friends' separation. What a shame their long collaboration in films will most likely end in light of recent developments in their personal lives. There's no doubt that the slow disintegration of Allen and Farrow's relationship inspired this work, but that is where the comparisons end. This is not an instance in which art imitates life, as so many have claimed. Here, real life is the stuff of tabloids, while Husbands and Wives comes close to the exquisite stuff of art.