|Husbands and Wives|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 16 April 2002|
When Sally and Jack (Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack) announce they are splitting up, it throws their best friends Gabe and Judy Roth (Woody Allen and Mia Farrow) into a tailspin. As the quartet of self-absorbed New Yorkers examine love and marriage, the audience is treated to the characters' innermost thoughts and insights in a documentary style.
Although billed as a comedy, the film comes across as more of a drama for the first two thirds. "Husbands and Wives" is full of natural performances and marital fights so excruciatingly real one has to wonder if Allen lifted them straight form his own troubled relationship with Farrow. Judy Davis steals every scene as Sally, and Liam Neeson is appealing as Sally's new suitor and object of confused Judy Roth's crush as her own marriage falters. Juliette Lewis does a strong turn as a mediocre young writer flattered by the attentions of her teacher, but as the film was released just as the story of Allen's affair with adopted 19-year-old daughter Soon-Yi Previn made news, the viewer cannot help but be distracted, wondering how much of the onscreen relationship was based on Allen's own life. As characters play musical partners -- Judy and Michael end up together after Sally and Jack reunite, while Gabe makes a play for besotted student Rain -- the story comes to a head during a rainstorm that seems to symbolize the tumultuousness of love. The coda, set almost two years later, as the couples reflect on the events that lead to one divorce and one couple mending fences, may be played for subtle humor, but in the end, it seems more to be about the downside of love. Devoid of the sweeping gestures of grand movie-style romance, love comes down to the need to be with someone -- anyone -- to stave off loneliness. Which, while true in many cases, isn't exactly a laugh riot.
"Husbands and Wives" is full of Allen's signature wit and sharp characterizations, mining the character's relationships for every ounce of angst. However, if you're not a fan of the writer/director's style, the film can be tedious at times. There is only so much self-absorption and cutting remarks one can take. However, the film works due to strong performances, particularly from Farrow and Pollack, and the very honest look at human failings as well as strengths.
Presented in both widescreen and pan-and-scan formats, the transfer is good, although flaws in the print are noticeable. The unseen documentary filmmaker's comments are at times difficult to discern without cranking the volume. The mood lighting and hand-held camera techniques, complete with the image losing focus at key points, only seem to lend to the "documentary" style, and as such do not detract too much from the story. Likewise, the lack of musical score along with the "interview" segments adds to the realism of the film. The no-frills release features a mono sound mix and almost zero extras aside from the standard trailer, without the inclusion of even cast bios or production notes. The menus are simple and easy to navigate, consisting of text and images over production stills from the film.
Overall, this is a lackluster presentation of a popular Woody Allen film, which may not hold the attention of viewers who aren't already fans of his work.