1 December 2005 | MisterWhiplash
One of my top five favorite Woody flicks
On a recent documentary I saw on Woody Allen's career, with him being interviewed, he said of this film that it was one of only a small number of times in his career he felt he carried over what he wanted on the page to the screen. Though I've never read the actual shooting script to Husbands and Wives, I can see what he means. I've seen the film several times, if not all the way through then usually when it is on TV, and it always strikes my attention the frankness of it all, how it follows almost no rules. It shares a kinship with another Woody masterpiece, Deconstructing Harry, also about a neurotic writer and the relationship problems around him. Here he focuses not only on himself, but also on another married couple, played by Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis (the later of which one of Woody's best in his quasi stock company), and what he calls the "discombobulated" characters. It is funny here and there, but in reality this is a great film of dramatic sincerity and occasional intensity.
Woody himself is in his final collaboration with his ex-wife Mia Farrow, who themselves in the film play a married couple working through some issues. There is also the sensitive, passionate man between the two couples played by Liam Neeson, who acts as a good mediator between the two intertwining story lines. And Juliette Lewis is surprisingly good as a young would-be author who befriends the author/professor Woody plays in the film. What works to make all of these relationships, with warts and all, is that the dialog is always totally, without a doubt, believable. One can see people like this around the New York city upper-middle class landscape, with the neuroses as intriguing as they are frank and even a little disturbing.
While the film shares a kinship with some of the dark, brooding themes of Interiors, and quintessentially European (in a good way) attitude towards editing and composition to Deconstructing Harry, it also has (also 'Harry's' DP) the eye of Carlo Di Palma. Di Palma, who also worked with Antonioni on Red Desert and Blowup, works with great ease with the aesthetics of the scenes. This time the camera-work is practically all hand-held, lit with nearly (seemingly) no artificial lights, and with a kind of intensity that is sometimes lacking in other Woody films. In wrong, amateur hands this style could falter, but with the material given, the constant interest and conviction in the performances, and Allen directing, it works. Having Di Palma as a cinematographer is as good a bet as having (a mentally-all-together) Marlon Brando as your star, and because of the documentary realism involved it always remains interesting. I could watch this movie, at least most scenes, just as easily as I could with films like Manhattan or 'Harry', because it is one of those special times in the filmmaker's career where everything comes together, however how raw it may be.