9 April 2014 | bkrauser-81-311064
Drifting in and Out of Romance
Gabe (Woody Allen) and Judy (Mia Farrow) have invited their good friends Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis) for a small dinner at their quaint Manhattan apartment. Their abode is full of books and knickknacks all pointing to a comfortable urbanite life in the largest city in the world. Then Jack and Sally reveal some surprising news
after years of seemingly happy marriage, the two have agreed to a separation and eventual divorce. After that bomb is dropped the two couples reexamine their relationships with each other, trying to find meaning in romances both current and past while discovering the good, the bad and the ugly in marriage.
Woody Allen is mostly known for his comedies. But while Husbands and Wives has some pretty spot on observational humor, the story is largely somber and dramatic. Not dramatic in the sense of a Wednesday afternoon soap opera but a benign drama that with a few spikes of activity focuses mostly on the characters. There is no clever high concept or narrative liberties here like say, The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985); the film is more straight-laced and character driven along the lines of Interiors (1978) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).
And what of the characters or rather the actors who flesh them out? Judy Davis, Mia Farrow and Juliette Lewis are the obvious standouts, representing three very different women all of which are looking for the same thing; someone to love and someone to love them back. Davis received an Oscar nomination for her role as a bitter divorcée trying to come to terms with her ex-husband's infidelity and being single again. She's continually frustrated and confused by the yearnings of the heart occasionally even lashing out on her boyfriend Gates (Liam Neeson). She's cynical and wary of attachment yet deep down she knows that her entanglements with Jack aren't over.
Mia Farrow is a stark counterpoint to Diane Keaton's brassy personalities of Allen's earlier work. Farrow's intensity lies always below the surface, providing the perked looks and mousiness of a young ingénue with the mind and body language of a veteran in the trials of love. It's a shame that out of the twelve Woody Allen films she has been in (for which Husbands and Wives was most famously her last) she had never received recognition by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for her stellar work.
Juliette Lewis who plays one of Gabe's young students from his Literature course, has the appearance and vulnerability of a dewy-eyed devotee. Yet when the amiable Gabe discovers he might be the object of desire here and Lewis's Rain the controller, he recoils. There's a scene where the two are in a cab discussing the latest draft of his book. Unable to take criticism, Gabe calls Rain a 20-year-old twit and says "I'd hate to be your boyfriend, he must go through hell." Rain cavalierly responds "Well, I'm worth it."
Those who bemoan Allen's post-Annie Hall (1977) work won't find relief from his more meditative works of the 1980's. While most of the characters are likable they sometimes do unlikeable things, each on their own journey of discovery. I suppose we all do things we regret for love and those with a mature outlook on the subject matter will find a lot to enjoy and a lot to flinch at in Husbands and Wives. I suppose the heart wants what the heart wants.