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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Woody Allen's Squabbling Spouses

Husbands and Wives (1992)

The next screening for my participation in StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress blogathon ( is Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, a scathing account of marital discord among four middle-aged characters. I consider this movie to be his finest of the 1990s. The movie begins when Jack and Sally (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis) announce to their friends Gabe and Judy (Allen and Farrow) that they are divorcing. This announcement, and the subsequent fallout, involves both Jack and Sally finding new partners and Gabe and Judy turning an intense eye on their own relationship. The movie is filmed in documentary-style, and the emotions it touches are often raw. It pokes and prods at the myriad of ways that relationships can go sour, and how they come to define a person's identity.

The entire central foursome does an excellent job, with the two actresses showing the most range and emotion. Judy Davis, who was nominated for Supporting Actress, does an extremely fine job of playing the prickly, intellectual, easily wounded Sally. She has several bravura and scathingly hilarious scenes in which she steals the movie. Allen excels at writing supporting female parts that allow for actress to shine (Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Dianne Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway). The movie can probably be technically considered a comedy, but probably the darkest "comedy" Allen has made. The emotions are rough and certain scenes are almost unbearably intimate.

Allen is probably the modern director who most puts himself on the screen, or at least portrays a similar persona in many roles. In Husbands and Wives, released just after the Soon-Yi affair was uncovered and he and Farrow broke up, this makes for some uncomfortable moments. Allen portrays Farrow's character as passive aggressive and conniving. He also portrays himself as a man who has a 20-year-old in love with him, yet refuses to consummate the relationship. In the end, the blame for the marital problems are placed at Judy's feet. A bit of alternate reality for Woody? Then again, Allen includes a scene where the young woman played by Juliette Lewis (his young student) criticizes his character's views of women and men in a novel. So Allen is self-aware enough to recognize his own flaws.

All in all, Husbands and Wives is essential viewing for any Allen fan.

Grade: A-

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