Forever linked with behind-the-scenes drama that mirrors the film itself, Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives (1992) was released right after the very public end of his long relationship with leading lady Mia Farrow. Our story primarily follows two couples: Gabe and Judy (Allen and Farrow), introduced first, have invited long-time friends Jack and Sally (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis) over for a night out -- but the latter couple drops a bombshell within minutes that they're amicably getting a divorce. Their friends are devastated, but Judy takes it much harder: shock gives way to anger, and it's not long before she questions her own degree of marriage satisfaction. Things get even more complicated after Jack and Sally meet other people -- vapid aerobics teacher Samantha (Lysette Anthony) and sweet, sensitive editor Michael (Liam Neeson) -- while Gabe continues a friendship with his talented young writing student Rain (Juliette Lewis).
As the drama unfolds -- quite fiercely at times, and with a level of rawness and intensity that hadn't been seen in the prolific director's body of work thus far -- Husbands and Wives maintains a strong level of interest with great characters bolstered by honest, committed performances. It's home to no shortage of memorable scenes and exchanges, many of which remind us that there's no such thing as a perfect marriage. In short, no couple gets away clean here: some are disasters from the start, others are dull and predictable but "good enough" to stay above water, while some of the most tumultuous pairs end up happy by the closing credits. From a distance, Husbands and Wives doesn't stray too far from the prolific director's body of work, but the increased level of tension helps it stand out in the best way.
Perhaps Husbands and Wives' other obvious departure Allen's previous work is its hand-held documentary-style visuals; lensed by the late, great Carlo Di Palma during the middle of a twelve film collaboration, the often shaky camerawork and staccato edits (by Susan E. Morse, who worked with Allen on over 20 films) keep viewers on their toes by creating an interesting, unpredictable rhythm. The addition of voice-over narration and cut-away "interviews" -- occasionally seen in previous Allen films, including Zelig -- often provide a breather from some of the more heated moments. Having not seen Husbands and Wives in a decade or more, I had almost completely forgotten how much difference it makes in comparison to the typical Allen film -- and given the substantially more raw and dramatic subject matter here, these elements (aside from portions of the narration, which border on excessive) feel like a more naturally satisfying fit. Together, they help to create one of Allen's most brutally effective films...and, quite possibly, his last truly great one.
Like so many other consistently polarizing films in Allen's back catalog, Husbands and Wives has recently been rescued from the depths of standard definition by Twilight Time. Like Zelig, Another Woman, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Interiors, Shadows and Fog, Stardust Memories, September, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bananas, and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex*, Husbands and Wives finally arrives on Blu-ray with an shiny new A/V presentation and all the extras you'd expect from a Woody Allen disc (read: the trailer). Bullets Over Broadway, pretty please?
Columbia/Tri-Star's 2002 DVD of Husbands and Wives was good for its time...but given the 16-year gap, Twilight Time's new Blu-ray is obviously more impressive in direct comparison. This 1080p transfer was obviously sourced from a new or recent restoration, as it's exceedingly clean and consistent in quality from start to finish. Detail, film grain, and black levels are much improved overall, and the natural color palette -- especially the extremely warm indoor shots -- give Husbands and Wives a comfortable, lived-in atmosphere. Nighttime sequences and low-light interiors also look great. The disc is also encoded well with no digital issues (artifacts, excessive DNR, etc.), serving up a pleasing film-like presentation that's likely the next best thing to an original theatrical showing. Without question, this is easily the best that Husbands and Wives has ever looked on home video and Twilight Time's Blu-ray will impress fans and first-timers alike.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional stills and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the title under review.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, which perfectly replicates Husbands and Wives' original two-channel Dolby Spectral Recording mix. Dialogue and background effects are balanced well and rarely fight for attention. As this is an almost entirely dialogue-driven production, it's not exactly loaded with activity or depth along the way -- aside from the occasional shouting match, there are only a few social gatherings and walks on bustling city streets -- but what's here sounds terrific with no apparent defects or damage of any kind. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature, as well as a separate Isolated Music Track likewise presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release arrives in a clear keepcase with poster-themed artwork and a short Booklet featuring production stills, promotional artwork, and another insightful new essay penned by Julie Kirgo. Aside from the isolated music track, bonus features are limited to the film's Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes); not surprising for a Woody Allen film.
Made during an extremely tumultuous period in the lives of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow (and one which created large clouds of dust that haven't completely settled), Husbands and Wives stands tall as one of the prolific director's best films of the last 30 years. Nominated for two Academy Awards and winner of that year's BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay, Husbands and Wives represented another new direction after Allen's experimental and polarizing Shadows and Fog a year earlier. Part semi-autobiography, part raw drama, and part black comedy, it's shot as a quasi-documentary and loaded with extremely natural, committed performances from top to bottom. It's not the easiest watch and often more brutal and emotionally honest than much of his previous work, but that's just one of the reasons why I still respect it so much. Twilight Time's new Blu-ray holds its own as a respectable upgrade from Columbia/Tri-Star's 2002 DVD; there obviously aren't any new extras, but the A/V presentation is a big leap forward. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.