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Husbands and Wives

Many of these, of course, will come for the titillation of seeing Allen make out with a 21-year-old and go through a wrenching split from Farrow onscreen. Even those who enter in this frame of mind, however, probably will put these thoughts aside for the most part as they become involved in the romantic longings and verbal crossfire of a host of interesting, difficult, intersecting characters. Jarring opening scene gives a strong indication of things to come. Arriving to dine with their best friends Allen and Farrow, married couple Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis announce almost matter-of-factly that they're separating. While Allen drones in disbelief and offers reflex support, Farrow nearly goes into shock. It quickly becomes apparent that Allen and Farrow are having troubles of their own. Although she has one previous child and they're both getting on, couple have never agreed upon having a child of their own--she's for it, he's against. Farrow is also woefully insecure about her attractiveness and lovability, while Allen admits to daydreaming about sexy young things but never does anything about it, saying, "They don't want an old man." Still, college English instructor Allen takes a special interest in a talented and provocative student, Juliette Lewis, whose short story shows great promise. Even though she has a history of dating middle-age men and pushes things with her admiring mentor, Allen steers clear of any sexual involvement. Indeed, the subject of the attraction between older men and younger women is decidedly secondary here to the theme that Allen's character is working out in his novel-in-progress. "I'm trying to show how hard it is to be married," he tells Lewis, and the conflicting desires to be married and live a single life lie at the heart of "Husbands and Wives." This concern is most thoroughly explored in the exploits of Pollack and Davis once they go their separate ways. After some initial philandering, Pollack takes up with knockout New Age bimbo Lysette Anthony and goes the usual route of feeling young again. Infuriated with how quickly Pollack has replaced her, the intense, seemingly eternally dissatisfied Davis consults Farrow, who sets her up with her co-worker, sensitive, romantic Irish dreamboat Liam Neeson. When Neeson goes for Davis in a big way, Farrow becomes distraught, realizing the depth of her own feelings for him. Allen creates a full-bodied gallery of hard-headed urbanites who more often than not operate out of self-destructive impulses. As Allen confesses at one weak moment, "My heart does not know from logic.' An "Annie Hall"-like coda reveals what happened to the characters a year-and-a-half later, with the expected bittersweet, melancholy results. While his subjects have remained much the same, Allen's style has undergone a radical change here. Although the color tones are still orangish and warm, Carlo Di Palma's lensing appears to be almost entirely hand-held, creating a look somewhere between early French New Wave and cinema-verite, in line with the film's vaguely documentary structure (the director originally proposed shooting in 16mm). With the possible exception of Neeson's character, these people are unhappy and somewhat frustrated with their search for answers to life's impossible dilemmas. Allen's New York remains a romanticized construct, but those inhabiting it are angrier and more short-tempered than usual for him. The women, in particular, drink a lot, while the men are all defensive. This is definitely his edgiest, rawest work in a good while. Acting is of a very high caliber across the board, but Judy Davis, in a very meaty part compared to her previous walk-on for Allen in "Alice," is incandescent, revealing a whole new side to her personality that has never surfaced onscreen before. Her character does so many of the "wrong" things, making life much more difficult for herself and those around her than need be, yet people are compellingly drawn to her. By contrast, Farrow seems terminally insecure, but she, too, is able to summon up strength and emerge stronger than before through luck and persistence. She and Allen, always a curious but endearing couple in their films together (this is their unlucky 13th), are first-rate. Pollack, whose screen appearances until now have essentially been extended cameos, registers very strongly here as a man in classic mid-life crisis, while Neeson is vastly appealing as a too-good-to-be-true available man in Manhattan. Having replaced Emily Lloyd a ways into shooting, Lewis conveys an intriguing combination of precocious accessibility and elusiveness, while Anthony is hilarious in the ferocity of her stupid convictions. As usual for Allen, score consists mostly of classic old tunes, most prominent of which here is Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love." In all respects, this is a full meal, as it deals with the things of life with intelligence, truthful drama and rueful humor.

With:
Gabe Roth ... Woody Allen Rain's mother ... Blythe Danner Sally ... Judy Davis Judy Roth ... Mia Farrow Rain ... Juliette Lewis Michael ... Liam Neeson Jack ... Sydney Pollack Sam ... Lysette Anthony Shawn Grainger ... Cristi Conaway Paul ... Timothy Jerome Rain's analyst ... Ron Rifkin Dinner party guest ... Jerry Zaks Peter Styles ... Bruce Jay Friedman Judy's ex-husband ... Benno Schmidt Interviewer/narrator ... Jeffrey Kurland Husbands and Wives" is major Woody. Preoccupied with the age-old but endlessly fascinating subject of the difficulty of relationships, and expressing perplexity at the way things work out between men and women, this sometimes comic drama stands with "Manhattan" and "Hannah and Her Sisters" as a richly satisfying ensemble piece about neurotics falling in and out of love in New York. Had the recent Woody-Mia bomb never exploded, TriStar, with the help of a planned Allen junket, would no doubt have promoted the film to some of the best grosses the writer-director-star has ever achieved. As things stand, distrib has moved release up a week to Sept. 18 in 800 theaters, especially wide for Allen, and the attendant publicity will no doubt attract quite a few curious souls who didn't catch "Shadows and Fog."

Many of these, of course, will come for the titillation of seeing Allen make out with a 21-year-old and go through a wrenching split from Farrow onscreen. Even those who enter in this frame of mind, however, probably will put these thoughts aside for the most part as they become involved in the romantic longings and verbal crossfire of a host of interesting, difficult, intersecting characters. Jarring opening scene gives a strong indication of things to come. Arriving to dine with their best friends Allen and Farrow, married couple Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis announce almost matter-of-factly that they’re separating. While Allen drones in disbelief and offers reflex support, Farrow nearly goes into shock. It quickly becomes apparent that Allen and Farrow are having troubles of their own. Although she has one previous child and they’re both getting on, couple have never agreed upon having a child of their own–she’s for it, he’s against. Farrow is also woefully insecure about her attractiveness and lovability, while Allen admits to daydreaming about sexy young things but never does anything about it, saying, “They don’t want an old man.” Still, college English instructor Allen takes a special interest in a talented and provocative student, Juliette Lewis, whose short story shows great promise. Even though she has a history of dating middle-age men and pushes things with her admiring mentor, Allen steers clear of any sexual involvement. Indeed, the subject of the attraction between older men and younger women is decidedly secondary here to the theme that Allen’s character is working out in his novel-in-progress. “I’m trying to show how hard it is to be married,” he tells Lewis, and the conflicting desires to be married and live a single life lie at the heart of “Husbands and Wives.” This concern is most thoroughly explored in the exploits of Pollack and Davis once they go their separate ways. After some initial philandering, Pollack takes up with knockout New Age bimbo Lysette Anthony and goes the usual route of feeling young again. Infuriated with how quickly Pollack has replaced her, the intense, seemingly eternally dissatisfied Davis consults Farrow, who sets her up with her co-worker, sensitive, romantic Irish dreamboat Liam Neeson. When Neeson goes for Davis in a big way, Farrow becomes distraught, realizing the depth of her own feelings for him. Allen creates a full-bodied gallery of hard-headed urbanites who more often than not operate out of self-destructive impulses. As Allen confesses at one weak moment, “My heart does not know from logic.’ An “Annie Hall”-like coda reveals what happened to the characters a year-and-a-half later, with the expected bittersweet, melancholy results. While his subjects have remained much the same, Allen’s style has undergone a radical change here. Although the color tones are still orangish and warm, Carlo Di Palma’s lensing appears to be almost entirely hand-held, creating a look somewhere between early French New Wave and cinema-verite, in line with the film’s vaguely documentary structure (the director originally proposed shooting in 16mm). With the possible exception of Neeson’s character, these people are unhappy and somewhat frustrated with their search for answers to life’s impossible dilemmas. Allen’s New York remains a romanticized construct, but those inhabiting it are angrier and more short-tempered than usual for him. The women, in particular, drink a lot, while the men are all defensive. This is definitely his edgiest, rawest work in a good while. Acting is of a very high caliber across the board, but Judy Davis, in a very meaty part compared to her previous walk-on for Allen in “Alice,” is incandescent, revealing a whole new side to her personality that has never surfaced onscreen before. Her character does so many of the “wrong” things, making life much more difficult for herself and those around her than need be, yet people are compellingly drawn to her. By contrast, Farrow seems terminally insecure, but she, too, is able to summon up strength and emerge stronger than before through luck and persistence. She and Allen, always a curious but endearing couple in their films together (this is their unlucky 13th), are first-rate. Pollack, whose screen appearances until now have essentially been extended cameos, registers very strongly here as a man in classic mid-life crisis, while Neeson is vastly appealing as a too-good-to-be-true available man in Manhattan. Having replaced Emily Lloyd a ways into shooting, Lewis conveys an intriguing combination of precocious accessibility and elusiveness, while Anthony is hilarious in the ferocity of her stupid convictions. As usual for Allen, score consists mostly of classic old tunes, most prominent of which here is Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love.” In all respects, this is a full meal, as it deals with the things of life with intelligence, truthful drama and rueful humor.

Popular on Variety

Husbands and Wives

(Comedy-drama--Color)

Production: A TriStar release of a Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe production. Produced by Robert Greenhut. Executive producers, Rollins, Joffe. Co-producers, Helen Robin, Joseph Hartwick. Directed, written by Woody Allen.

Crew: Camera (Duart color; Technicolor prints), Carlo Di Palma; editor, Susan E. Morse; production design, Santo Loquasto; art direction, Speed Hopkins; set decoration, Susan Bode; costume design, Jeffrey Kurland; sound (Dolby), James Sabat; associate producer-assistant director, Thomas Reilly; casting, Juliet Taylor. Reviewed at Sony Studios screening room, Culver City, Aug. 25, 1992. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 107 min.

With: Gabe Roth ... Woody Allen Rain's mother ... Blythe Danner Sally ... Judy Davis Judy Roth ... Mia Farrow Rain ... Juliette Lewis Michael ... Liam Neeson Jack ... Sydney Pollack Sam ... Lysette Anthony Shawn Grainger ... Cristi Conaway Paul ... Timothy Jerome Rain's analyst ... Ron Rifkin Dinner party guest ... Jerry Zaks Peter Styles ... Bruce Jay Friedman Judy's ex-husband ... Benno Schmidt Interviewer/narrator ... Jeffrey Kurland Husbands and Wives" is major Woody. Preoccupied with the age-old but endlessly fascinating subject of the difficulty of relationships, and expressing perplexity at the way things work out between men and women, this sometimes comic drama stands with "Manhattan" and "Hannah and Her Sisters" as a richly satisfying ensemble piece about neurotics falling in and out of love in New York. Had the recent Woody-Mia bomb never exploded, TriStar, with the help of a planned Allen junket, would no doubt have promoted the film to some of the best grosses the writer-director-star has ever achieved. As things stand, distrib has moved release up a week to Sept. 18 in 800 theaters, especially wide for Allen, and the attendant publicity will no doubt attract quite a few curious souls who didn't catch "Shadows and Fog."

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