Husbands and Wives
- Woody Allen as Gabe Roth
- Mia Farrow as Judy Roth
- Sydney Pollack as Jack
- Judy Davis as Sally
- Juliette Lewis as Rain
- Liam Neeson as Michael
One of Woody Allen’s most lacerating and stark movies, which centres on the dissolving of marriages and infidelity, Husbands and Wives is far from his standard stuff. If you are used to seeing Woody Allen’s movies as light-hearted and sweet, then prepare for something at the other end of the spectrum with this unforgettable entry into his canon.
Gabe and Judy Roth are a seemingly solid couple who have been married for ten years. Gabe is a writer and professor while Judy works at a publisher’s. The main crux of the film begins when the close friends of the couple, Jack and Sally come around to their house on a night when they are all supposed to go out for dinner. They announce that they are separating from each other and both seem none too fussed, later we will see that both are putting on a brave face. The announcement of their separation bemuses Gabe, who is cynical to say the least but has a more lasting impact of shock on Judy. The news seems to hit a nerve with her and after this she too begins questioning how ideal her marriage is and what flaws may very well lie in it. Meanwhile, Jack(who has a history of philandering with women he finds less demanding than the tightly wound Sally) has moved in with an attractive but none too bright aerobics teacher, while Sally tentatively begins to see nice editor Michael, who she is introduced to via Judy. Judy though harbours secret feelings for Michael that she tries to suppress, yet having been put in a tailspin, she is now questioning her own marriage. Gabe as well has begun to be infatuated by one of his writing the students, the effervescent Rain who has a thing for older men. Throughout the film, scenes of each character are interspersed talking to an unseen interviewer, baring their secrets and emotions on love and the state of affairs each has encountered. With all the upheaval of emotions, which unions can be saved and which will ultimately drift apart?
Woody Allen paints a dark and unrelenting picture of marital disharmony, that shows that his movies can be as unromantic as they are sweepingly romantic. You can’t help but feel ounces of cynicism and bitterness towards the institution of marriage and it really bleeds into the film. And those expecting a lot of humour will be in for a shock, because even when there is moments of humour it is on the brooding and subdued end of the spectrum. Also of note is the fact that Husbands and Wives strangely parallels the real life drama of Allen and Mia Farrow’s breakdown in relationship and scandal that engulfed it. Because of this, there is something of a realistic tone that comes close being almost autobiographical throughout the movie that can’t be ignored, whether it was intentional or not. The hand-held camerawork of the piece is just splendid in projecting the fragile relationships on display and the instability of love in general. I’m not usually a big lover of hand-held camerawork, but when employed successfully here by Woody Allen and filled with expressive and almost intrusive close-ups, it throws us straight into the maelstrom of emotional fallout and questions regarding marriage. The interviews with the characters that forms part of the movie may put some off, but for me it was a real gamble that payed off. We gain a genuine insight into these character’s thoughts and feelings on themselves and each other that at many times they won’t share face to face with each other. A subdued colour scheme further highlights the uncertainty of all the romantic parties involved with mauve and dark browns acting as the primary components.
Woody Allen as an actor seems to be on familiar ground with the befuddled character of Gabe, but he injects the role with a deep cynicism that marks an edge to the character and makes him somewhat different from what he could have been. Mia Farrow is extremely evocative as the fragile and shaken Judy, who comes to question her own marriage in the shock of seeing Jack and Sally’s end. Farrow has that ability to portray a large amount of melancholy and it is ideally suited to the part here. Though with everything that occurred off-screen, it does make me wonder how much of Farrow’s performance is acting and how much could be the real thing. Either way, it’s an excellent performance surrounded by sadness and desolation. Sydney Pollack, best known for being a director, makes his mark as the philandering jerk Jack who says he wants a change but can’t let go of the past. The two main standout performances to be found in Husbands and Wives belong to Judy Davis and Juliette Lewis. Judy Davis is exceptional as the difficult and neurotic Sally, who can spit venom when needed and find flaws in just about anything you put in front of her. Davis burrows into the character finding sadness, humour and unusual tics that the character possesses and how despite her separation, she can’t live without her husband. It is a truly dazzling performance from a hugely talented actress, who clearly understands the role of Sally as a bubbling cauldron of anger that is going to boil over. Juliette Lewis has a deep vibrancy, strange sort of sensuality and opinionated tendency that she adds to the role of Rain, who has a real passion for writing and a tendency to attract older men. Liam Neeson provides some excellent support as the editor taken with Sally, yet secretly suspecting that Judy has feelings for him too.
Bruising, dark and more than a little bitter on the subject of marriage, Husbands and Wives gains power and wounding impact due to the choice to shoot events with an up close and personal camera style, excellent writing and smashing performances from the cast.