A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
The opening sequence in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" is a long, unbroken shot done in documentary style. The camera swoops here and there, nervously darting around the room to watch the action as two long-married couples deal with the news that one couple has decided to get divorced. With the invention of the Steadicam, this kind of sequence can be done with a relatively smooth camera style, but that's not what Allen wants. He wants a jerky, harried camera (we imagine the cinematographer sweating as he tries to keep up with the action), a camera as confused as the characters, who keep interrupting each other and denying what they hear.
Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis play the couple who are divorcing. They are relaxed, reasonable; this is an amicable move that will allow them both to "grow" - and to "grow," in psychobabble, is of course more important than to commit, to compromise, to share, to sacrifice. The news of the divorce comes as a devastating blow to the other couple, played by Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. They thought their friends were so happy! The news is also a threat - because if this happy couple can split up, what couple is safe? For many people, the real-life troubles between Allen and Farrow were the same sort of blow. It wasn't that they had an ideal marriage (they weren't married, for one thing), but they'd built an interesting relationship that allowed each partner to work and remain independent, while somewhere in the middle was their love and the children they were raising. They seemed so . . . adult about the whole thing.
But what "Husbands and Wives" argues is that many "rational" relationships are actually not as durable as they seem, because somewhere inside every person is a child crying me! me! me! We say we want the other person to be happy. What we mean is, we want them to be happy with us, just as we are, on our terms.
Look at the scene in the movie where the Allen character runs into his old pal (Pollack) on the street, and they continue their conversation inside a convenience store. Pollack has now left his wife of many years, and is living with a sexy aerobics instructor. She has the bounce and body of a centerfold, and is into self-improvement, by which she means anything that can be learned from those magazines with full-page ads for fruit juicers. It would appear to Allen (and to the audience) that the bond between the older man and the younger woman consists primarily of sex, but as Pollack talks, his voice rapid and confidential, we get a better glimpse of his thinking. He sees this young woman as his second chance, his lost youth - what he deserves! Yes! His right to be happy! "With my wife, I always felt like I was taking an audition." The girl loves him for - we can see this coming - himself. Which is really all any of us want to be loved for.