This movie is considered more an infamous chapter in Woody Allen’s life than is talked about for the quality of the film. This was released in the middle of the scandal involving Allen’s affair with his stepdaughter Soon-Yi Previn. I honestly didn’t know anything about it at the time due to my young age. I wasn’t even familiar with Allen because he never made a film that would have appealed to me at the time. While this was a personal jumping off point for many Allen fans, I simply have to review the art on its own merits.
Husbands and Wives feels like the spiritual successor to Crimes and Misdemeanors. Except where Allen got on his soapbox about how we are in a godless universe with no supernatural justice or external morality, Allen is now getting on his soapbox about how marriage sucks and how we do it basically for fear of being alone rather than love. Is it strange that I find the latter more depressing than the former? Maybe because the concept of a god really isn’t relavant to me anymore whereas I am aware of my failures romantically and having the feelings of being a lonely bastard. It is more personal and universal rather than the more philisophical prattlings of whether a god exists.
Personal and uncomfortable are probably the words that sum up my feelings on this movie. It feels like being trapped in a room with my parents where they argue for two hours about how they are miserable. Insults and resentful barbs are thrown one after the other and there is a lot of screaming. You find out people got into a relationship for the wrong reasons such as purely selfish ones and cannot stand when the attention is not on them. All the while, you would rather just leave than deal with all this petty and spiteful behavior.
If there was one thing I missed from Crimes and Misdemeanors was any kind of escape. Crimes had a comic relief subplot which was very much the definition of relief. While not ‘ha ha‘ funny necessarily, it was a more light breather in between the grim moments where people darkly ponder the existence of god and justice in this universe. In Husbands I would spend time with a couple shouting and saying hateful things, and then immediately cut to another group of selfish pricks. I just wanted a cut to something that didn’t make me feel like shit.
The movie is shot is a fake documentary style which has it’s positives and negatives. For the positives it does feel like you are getting the raw emotions of the situations. This is one of the few times where it seems like the dialog was more improvised rather than Allen’s usual tightly scripted prose. Everything seems more natural and that is why the arguments feel like they do. That being said, the documentary doesn’t really work within the context of the plot. This is a documentary about affairs, but the movie flashes back to events that this film crew could not have possibly been there to film. How would they know to be in the apartment when Sally and Jack reveal the news they are separating? Why would Gabe see another woman with a film crew when he is lying to his wife about an affair? It is like the film crew found out about these people and their affairs and got in a time machine in order to film it. I understand the motives behind the filming, but it was handled with lazy and shitty screenwriting.
The characters are all fleshed out executed well by the actors. Sydney Pollack does a great job as someone feels stifled by an overbearing wife and wants to be a young man again. Mia Farrow gives one of her better performances as a very subtly manipulative woman. Woody Allen even does a great job with his non-comedic role. He is tempted by a younger student (Juliette Lewis) not because of her looks but because she is more of a challange intellectually.
Woody Allen considers this one of his best movies and I can see why. While I can appreciate the genius of the movie, it is one of those films that I am perfectly content with seeing once. This is a brutal and emotional film that does not let up. While I admire it, that doesn’t mean I want multiple relapses into depression.