Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives is about two unhappy couples who look to each other for support. The individuals don’t look to their spouses, each couple looks to the other couple. And when one calls it quits the other falls apart because, if they can’t make it, what chance do we have? This is a mockumentary of the most serious nature, chronicling the seperation of one couple (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis) and the demise of another (Allen and Mia Farrow). The first section focuses on Pollack and Davis and it looks as if the Allen-Farrow relationship is going to be the comic relief, as it often is in Woody’s movies but then the cracks become clear in that couple as well. This is a sometimes-painful movie to watch, as there are no villains or sides just people who have grown apart or are unwilling to work out their problems. It gave me the same feeling I had when I saw Mike Nichols’ Closer, in which four people vied for the trophy of who could be the meanest. But unlike that picture, which was a miserable experience, Husbands and Wives is more concerned with truth and not drama.
Some of the people get back together, others find someone new. There are good secondary performances by Liam Neeson as a potential suiter for Davis and by Juliette Lewis as a student of Allen’s and the subject of his immature longings. Movies are wonderful devices for both putting us in the shoes of the characters while allowing us to be objective about them. No one acts in a way that we don’t understand but we can still see what choices are best for them, and be disappointed when they don’t make them. At the end we wonder about the stability of some couples and feel reassured about others.
I thought the process of shooting the movie as a mockumentary, with characters giving testimonials and even a fake movie crew asking questions and giving narration was gimmicky at fist but it creates a feeling that while these relationships are unexceptional in the scheme of the world, they are important enough for a fictional documentarian to make a film about because they are real. The movie comes close to being unbearable in its bleak outlook but there is a brief but important moment between two characters who aren’t even given names, played by Blythe Danner and Brian McConnachie that gives hope. It is a good but tough movie.