Plot: Jack (Sydney Pollack) and his wife Sally (Judy Davis) have agreed to divorce, but the split is an amicable one and both seem to think this change will allow them to grow as people. While Jack and Sally are at peace with this situation, their best friends Gabe (Woody Allen) and Judy (Mia Farrow) are blindsided by the news and struggle to process the situation. After all, Jack and Sally seemed to be so happy and still seem satisfied, so if a great couple like that can head to divorce, what chance do less than blissful couples have at success? But soon hidden motivations begin to surface and Gabe learns his friend Jack now has a young new love, which sparks a certain flame inside himself, to wonder about what might be. As his own relationship continues to strain and he ponders a potential change in his own life, what will become of Gabe and will he find a path to the happiness he seeks?
Entertainment Value: Husbands and Wives is an interesting piece of Woody Allen’s filmography, thanks to the almost documentary-like approach at times and how the movie’s narrative closely mirrored his own real life situation. The former is done with some sequences that have an off screen interviewer posing questions to the characters, which allows for quick, direct character development and exposition. I think this works quite well and suits the material, which examines the inner desires and needs of the characters, but I can see how some viewers might not appreciate it. The movie’s links to Allen and Farrow’s real life split helped the film’s profile at the time and makes a unique companion piece to that period in Allen’s life. But since he put so much of himself into most of his movies, I wouldn’t call it uncommon to have so much of his personal life pulled into Husbands and Wives. In addition to the documentary inspired touches, the movie also uses unconventional camera work, editing techniques, and other technical aspects, which help it stand out in Allen’s resume. This is likely to divide some viewers, as some of these elements are an odd choice, but I like that he mixed things up and I think it adds to the movie.
The cast of Husbands and Wives is a deep, talented lineup and Allen has one of the leads himself. His performance is in line with his usual work in front of the camera and as he wrote the role for himself, that makes sense. So his turn here is solid, but not much different than his typical performance. Mia Farrow has an interesting role here, as she isn’t a very sympathetic character, but her place in the movie would be just that in more traditional fare. I think her flawed, somewhat cold performance is quite good though, as it allows the exploration of the fantasy vs. reality dynamic of relationships. But to me, the best performance in Husbands and Wives belongs to Sydney Pollack, who is given a substantial role and he makes the most of that. He brings a lot to the part and his scenes with Judy Davis are fantastic, highlights of the movie for me. The two have great banter and play off each other well, especially as the veneer wears off their amicable split. Also on deck here are Juliette Lewis, Liam Neeson, Blythe Danner, and Lysette Anthony, among others. I’m not sure if Husbands and Wives would convert those who don’t usually appreciate Allen’s work, but he does make some interesting, even bold choices at times. But if you’re a fan of his brand of cinema, Husbands and Wives has a lot to offer and belongs in your collection.
The Disc: Twilight Time offers a new HD transfer that looks quite good, with a clean print and as much detail as can be expected. The DTS 2.0 soundtrack is capable and the extras include an isolated music & effects track and the film’s theatrical trailer.