23 January 2005 | JoeKarlosi
Husbands and Wives (1992) ****
This is one of Woody Allen's greatest films, but it took me two viewings to fully appreciate it. I first saw it in 1992 at the theatre upon its initial release with my then-girlfriend, when I was 30 and she was 24; but this second time was in 2005 on home video, with me still in the same relationship thirteen years later and married to this same woman for ten of those; it really hit a nerve for me as a middle-aged spouse. I'm not so sure it can appeal to every viewer, but I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to older married couples everywhere.
Allen's hard-hitting film dissects the long-term effects of being with the same person for a long time: familiarity, infidelity, stagnation and indifference. To drive the point home still further, the photography is crudely rendered in a sometimes confusing hand-held camera style which works wonders. Woody's cast is excellent - beginning with the note-perfect Sydney Pollack and strong-willed Judy Davis, who play a bored married couple announcing a trial separation, shocking and convincing their friends (Woody and wife Mia Farrow) to take a closer look at their own vulnerable relationship. Juliette Lewis is once again a very good young actress as a twenty-year-old student in Allen's writing class who becomes infatuated with him and turns out to be his protégé. Liam Neeson is strong as the new man Davis tries to reheat her romantic life with. One of Woody Allen's best performances here too, where he's more reserved and human -- not as whiny or nerdy as we're so accustomed to seeing him. Even better, he actually makes us more interested in the other characters instead of himself.
The mature story is sometimes told in a candid documentary-like format, where the participants alternately give their own perceptions as though they're spilling their guts to a psychotherapist, and then ultimately wind up expressing what they've learned from these experiences. I happen to agree with the idea that a couple must learn to accept imperfections in a marriage and work through them, together.* Released at the height of the media controversy surrounding Allen and his relationship with Mia Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi, there may well have been some similarities on display here.
*(EDITED UPDATE): Unfortunately, my wife and I divorced in 2010, after us being together for 21 years (married for 16 of those). I'm now in a new relationship and I suppose this experience will only serve to make HUSBANDS AND WIVES even more effective on the next viewing. **** out of ****