I watched Woody Allen's HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992) for the second time the other day. The first time I saw this film was when it was released in 1992. I don't recall liking the film very much at that time but when I watched it again last week for the first time in twenty-two years, I found it to be a singularly unpleasant film.
It pains me to write that about a Woody Allen movie. While I haven't seen all of his films, I've seen a lot of them and for a long stretch of years, I made it a point to see every new Allen film in the theater upon its' release. I stopped doing that several years ago and I've missed most of his output of the last dozen or so years. I'm sure I've missed some great films. I'm equally sure I've missed some bad ones.
It's the law of averages. When you write and direct a new movie every year for the past 40+ years as Allen has, you're bound to hit an occasional home run every now and then just as you're bound to strike out every so often. HUSBANDS AND WIVES is one big swing and a miss.
The film focuses on two married couples, Gabe and Judy Roth (Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, respectively) and Jack and Sally (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis). At the beginning of the film, Jack and Sally announce to Gabe and Judy that they are separating. This bit of news causes some uneasiness to come between Gabe and Judy. Jack soon takes up with Sam (Lysette Anthony), a young, blond bimbo, while Judy plays matchmaker for Sally by introducing her to Michael (Liam Neeson), a handsome young graphic designer. The trouble is, Judy is secretly in love with Michael and wants the budding relationship between the two to fail.
Meanwhile, Gabe, who teaches writing at Columbia University, becomes enamored with one of his young students, Rain (Juliette Lewis). He thinks she has real talent as a writer and he shows her the manuscript he's been working on. Rain, it turns out, is some kind of magnet for older men, with a series of affairs under her belt.
In the end, Jack and Sally get back together. Gabe and Judy divorce. Judy and Michael get married. Gabe is tempted to sleep with Rain but resists the urge. He's left alone, the odd man out, at the end of the film.
My problems with the film are many. To begin with, Allen shoots everything with a handheld camera that's constantly in herky-jerky motion. In almost every scene, his camera whirls around rooms and open spaces, darting here, zooming there, sometimes focusing on the character that's speaking, sometimes leaving them off screen. There are also multiple quick, jump cuts within scenes. All of this visual hugger mugger is, of course, meant to reflect the inner states of the characters. They're in turmoil over the disruptions their lives and relationships are undergoing. But the effect is tiresome and wearying after a very short while. To make matters worse, Allen does lock down his camera for scenes where the main characters address the camera straight on as subjects being interviewed by an unseen documentary film maker. Who this person is and why he wants to document the lives of such screwed up, morally reprehensible characters, is never explained. It's a narrative device that gives Allen (and the audience), a chance to catch our breaths from the visual roller coaster and let the characters have their say about their situations and philosophies.
The three main women in the film, Farrow, Davis and Lewis, are all, to my eye, aggressively unattractive. I've never understood Allen's attraction to Farrow and Judy Davis, while a talented actress, is far from attractive. Juliette Lewis has a larger forehead than Paul Begala and is ready made to play the part of Exeter in a remake of THIS ISLAND EARTH. I've always thought Lewis gives off a major skank vibe in every film I've seen her in.
HUSBANDS & WIVES contains very few laughs. Allen doesn't leaven the marital train wrecks on display with much humor. There are some jokes, but they're not good or memorable ones.
Surprisingly, HUSBANDS & WIVES received two Academy Award nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Davis) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen). Neither one won an Oscar but the film did receive much critical acclaim at the time. Go figure.
Finally, HUSBANDS & WIVES, is yet another Woody Allen film about extremely successful, uber-neurotic New Yorkers who lead such insular lives that it's hard to relate to any of the characters as real people. The themes of adultery, marital infidelity, failed relationships, unfulfilled desires and thwarted passions, are once again front and center. Allen seems obsessed with this material along with his increasingly creepy attraction to younger women. Hey Woody, if you're going to have a relationship with someone younger than you, at least pick someone better looking than Juliette Lewis.
I still admire Woody Allen. Films such as ANNIE HALL, MANHATTAN and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, rank as some of my all-time favorite movies. He is truly one of the great American filmmakers of both the 20th and 21st centuries. But he can't produce a masterpiece every time. HUSBANDS & WIVES is a stinker.