BR: Husbands and Wives (1992)

March 2, 2018 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  January 23, 2018

Genre:  Black Comedy

Synopsis: When Jack & Sally announce they’re breaking up, their actions set off a series of clunky choices and erode the supposedly solid marriage of best buds Gabe and Judy.

Special Features:  Isolated Mono Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

Woody Allen’s last film starring Mia Farrow is one of his best and darkest comedies, hyper-fixating on the (largely) negative effects of infidelity – the film earned Oscar nominations for writing and supporting actress (Judy Davis) – but its most powerful moments sometime feel like portents of Allen and Farrow’s imploding relationship, and the venality & controversy that still characterizes their post-breakup years.

Messy relationships are already underway as Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Davis) arrive for dinner at best buds Gabe Roth (Allen) and Judy (Farrow). The guests announce they’re divorcing but are ‘really fine with the whole thing,’ and look forward to independent lives and a return to the dating scene. Gabe and Judy are appalled, and although no one in the film is especially amiable, the least likely couple to permanently fracture after the End Credits roll is also the most logical to undergo a big shake-up.

It’s not that the people in Husbands are horrible; there are simply too many ideal stressors and temptations that allow fairly educated people to do very dumb things, moving from safe flirting and teasing to outright bad digressions. Like a neatly designed play, Allen starts the drama with a social kaboom – divorce – and initially follows the newly unshackled as Jack & Sally engage in relationships that tickle their youth bones, but the focus gradually widens to show stable Gabe’s predilection for his prettiest and most creative students in his college writing class, and Judy’s quiet hunger for a handsome, virile addition at the art magazine where she works.

The fact new employee Michael Gates (Liam Neeson, sporting his rarely heard native Irish brogue) is physically Gabe’s antithesis makes it hard for Judy not to fantasize of stealing him away from Sally, whereas Gabe’s toying with supposedly naïve Rain (Juliette Lewis) will inevitably end without much fanfare as the relationship between a gifted student and mentor can’t succeed. In the end his seething love for a student helps his long-suffering wife make the long suppressed decision to end a marriage that’s been stale for almost a decade; with no kids, barely functional sex, zero romance, and Judy’s hunger to explore creative writing far away from Gabe’s heavy shadow, it ultimately makes sense the pair need to head out on separate paths.

High powered executive Jack superficially enjoys dating pretty astrologist & vegan Sam (Krull’s Lysette Anthony), but it’s a union destined to crash because Jack knows deep inside she’s far too flaky and sensitive for his bluntness and impatience – qualities that probably gave extra verve to his marriage. Allen’s message seems to be that even ill-paired couples like Jack & Sally can succeed if they can find common ground in being self-centered, hyper-critical, but tolerant (or mutually dismissive) of their respective failings.

Husbands’ dark humour lies in the sharp dialogue and sometimes brutal tirades: Jack’s verbal (and near physical) smack-down of Sam is an ugly nightmare driven to its end-point in front of social peers, while Judy cuts through Gabe’s denial of any discord in what’s perhaps Allen and Farrow’s strongest performance onscreen: the rawness feels real because their relationship was reportedly disintegrating in tandem with the production schedule.

And as funny as Sally’s unappealing self-assessments are – telling hungry suitor Michael she’s difficult / opinionated / frigid – it’s also sad to watch a smart, acerbic woman set fire to a fresh start; when she reunites with Jack at the end, it seems to confirm Allen’s suggestion that familiarity makes incompatibility and friction more tolerable for the weak and scared than taking a leap of faith and embracing change.

Gabe’s romancing of Rain is ultimately funny for its ridiculousness: their walk in the park is precious, their cab ride & bickering brings out nasty critiques, and Gabe’s kissing Rain during – what else? – a rainstorm at a birthday party with her parents and boyfriend nearby is nonsense.

So if the characters are largely insufferable, why is the film one of Allen’s best blackest comedies?

Because Allen  seems to have taken inspiration from his mockumentaries (Take the Money and Run, Zelig), or perhaps Peter Watkins’ monodrama format (Culloden) in which the events unfolding are actually edited material from a fly-on-the-wall documentary crew that happen to be present the moment Jack and Sally arrive for that fateful opening dinner.

Off-screen interviewer Jeffrey Kurland is eased into the narrative as each character reflects on their social bungling to the camera, with lav mics  pinned to their clothes. Even Judy’s former ex-husband (pouty Benno Schmidt) chimes in from a park bench, pretty much trashing her as a victim emulator who controls the marriage after gaining the upper hand, and inevitably dumps her husband for a better prospect.

It’s an incredibly cynical tale that’s not unlike Stanley Kubrick’s own black comedy Eyes Wide Shut (1999) in which infidelity almost breaks up a power couple, although like co-stars Allen and Farrow, Eyes stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman would soon part ways as well, making arguments between their exhausted characters similarly resonate with more than a bit of reality.

Allen uses a fair amount of jump cuts and has most of the film covered through handheld, Steadicam-free cinematography; in spite of Carlo Di Palma’s stunning colour lighting, his camera is aggressive, invasive, and whips between characters, but it doesn’t matter if the focus is sometimes soft or takes a beat to sharpen; this is the director placing the audience uncomfortably close as characters acknowledge their flaws, intimacies, and engage in profane sputtering.

Both Kubrick and Allen end their respective black operas with brief scenes – essentially leading characters saying ‘Fuck it’ – but the capper is the End Credits: as Kubrick uses the sweeping, mocking strings of Dominic Harlan’s “Il Musica Ricercata” to punctuate his ‘Misadventures of a Pretentious Couple,’ Allen applies the sweet lyrics of Allen Cole Porter’s “What is This Thing Called Love” to close with a similarly cynical affirmation that the bonding agent between love and fidelity is easily corroded.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a fine transfer and a clean mono soundtrack, although audio nerds might note the End Credits include a Dolbly Stereo SR logo, and the trailer is in true stereo – perhaps a sign the film was released in a basic stereo mix (or was ultimately released in mono).

Julie Kirgo’s essay highlights the film’s virtues, including Pollack’s rare return to acting (he’s great) after becoming a top director of assorted genre hits (Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie, Out of Africa), and Lysette Anthony’s tough role playing Jack’s “dingbat” cliché.

Woody Allen films released by Twilight Time include Bananas (1971), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972), Love and Death (1975), Interiors (1978), Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose(1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Radio Days (1987), Another Woman (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Husbands and Wives (1992), and the Allen starring in the Red Menace satire The Front (1976).

Also reviewed are Take the Money and Run (1969) and Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971).

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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