When married couple Sally (Davis) and Jack (Pollack) declare that they're going their separate ways, it forces their friends Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Farrow) to reconsider their own relationship.
Rush-released at the time with typical Hollywoodian sensitivity to capitalise on the unfolding drama of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow's break-up, this black comedy of urban manners positively brims with poignant onscreen exchanges. Centred on the familiar Allen square-dance around two couples and shot self-consciously as a documentary, the film is a triumph both as art and propaganda, confirming Allen's skill as a comic director while attempting to acquit him of the charges of philandering he faced in real life.
Woody is Gabe Roth, an English literature lecturer and novelist, whose marriage to Judy (Farrow) is drawing to a close, though neither is quite ready to admit it. The catalyst comes when their best friends - Jack (Pollack) and Sally (Davis) - break-up, opening the Roths' own can of worms and sparking much angst and to-camera soul-searching about the nature of romantic love and passion in marriage. Asked by Judy whether he fancies the "young girls" in his English class, Allen fences beautifully: "Let me tell you, they don't want to know an old man," but when Raine (Lewis), a precocious 20-year-old who writes essays entitled Oral Sex In The Age Of Deconstruction, tells Roth she loves his new novel they quickly become platonically entwined.
"Do you ever hide things from me?" asks Judy. "No, do you?" Allen lies. Incredibly, the real-life resonance of lines like these (admittedly dulled over time) doesn't so much kill the humour as make it all the more delicious, with Allen once again drawing fine performances from his supporting cast, particularly Davis as a frigid-neurotic, and Liam Neeson as Michael, her earthy stand-in lover. Cast again in her Cape Fear Lolita role - but this time more seducer than seduced - Lewis is also completely believable. The same cannot be said for Allen who, while allowing Farrow to get in some minor digs, emerges as the more sympathetic and honourable character.
Allen has long warned his fans against reading too much into his movies, but this time it can only be to his advantage. As a film Husbands And Wives is probably Allen's best effort since Hannah And Her Sisters, but as a kind of docudrama it may well be remembered as his least honest.
Excellent performances from Pollack and Davis in particular, make this one of Woody's finest of the 90s