'Husbands and Wives' lines draw chuckles for familiarity to Woody's and Mia's lives

September 14, 1992|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

It should be a moment of quiet despair: The character, a woman fraught with middle age-induced insecurity, asks her husband, "Do you think we'll ever break up?"

The audience laughs.

Woody Allen's movie, "Husbands and Wives," comes to the screen competing with Woody Allen's reality, "Lovers and Daughters."

In a sneak preview last week at Loew's Valley Centre in Owings Mills, several hundred local viewers saw the movie that Mr. Allen was making as he was breaking up with long-time girlfriend Mia Farrow and taking up with her 21-year-old daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. The fact that Mr. Allen and Ms. Farrow star as one of the "Husbands and Wives" in the midst of divorcing -- as a 21-year-old woman tantalizes him from the sidelines -- adds a sort of wicked voyeurism to watching the movie, which opens to the public on Friday.

"I had a hard time getting it out of my head," one viewer, Barry Auerbach of Owings Mills, said of the real-life events that loom large over the movie. "This one was probably real personal for him."

"I think it was true to his life," said Stephanie Jules, also of Owings Mills, who attended the screening with her mother, Marjorie. "It makes you think about life and the games people play. It was very telltale about a lot of marriages and a lot of relationships."

"Husbands and Wives" is getting a wider-than-usual release for a Woody Allen movie, said Sharon Cohen, the Baltimore-area field representative for the distributing company, TriStar. Generally, an Allen movie opens in a few major markets first, then counts on good word-of-mouth to fuel it as it opens later in smaller cities, she said.

"On this one, we would have normally been in the second wave of openings," Ms. Cohen said. "But because of all the publicity, the film is in people's minds and [TriStar] decided on a bigger release. There is a lot of anticipation for this movie."

Not only did TriStar broaden the release, it also hastened it. Originally, eight cities were to open the movie on Sept. 23, followed by the rest of the country on Oct. 9. Instead, some 800 theaters coast-to-coast will open the film Friday. Locally, Ms. Cohen said, the movie will play at Marley Station, Columbia Palace, Valley Centre, Yorkridge, Greenspring and Security Square.

Except for the looming presence of the Allen-Farrow break-up that exploded onto the media last month, this movie plays on screen much like any other Woody Allen movie -- meaning it is intimate and obviously drawn from his personal life. "Husbands and Wives" features two married couples -- Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis play the other one -- in the throes of breaking up, with younger attractions figuring into the process in varying degrees. Frequently, the actors speak directly into the camera, commenting on the goings-on and contributing background history.

Muffled titters and outright guffaws greet the most true-to-tabloid aspects of the movie at last week's screening: The Woody Allen character, a Columbia University professor, finds himself attracted to one of his young students, for example. Also, the couple has an on-going dispute over the Mia Farrow character's desire for another child.

"You already have a daughter," Woody-as-Gabe says to Mia-as-Judy at one point in the movie.

Followers of the exhaustive press coverage of the break-up of the 12-year, 13-movie, cross-Central Park relationship of Mr. Allen and Ms. Farrow will no doubt draw parallels: Not only has Mr. Allen been involved with Ms. Farrow's college-student daughter, Allen reportedly has been troubled by his lover's continuing desire to adopt more children. (She has seven adopted children besides four biological ones, one of whom, Satchel, 4, is Mr. Allen's biological son. Mr. Allen had adopted two of her other children, Dylan, 4, and Moses, 14, as well, and last month filed for custody of them as well as Satchel.)

Still, the movie is hardly a mere mirror to the specifics of Mr. Allen's current personal life. The movie focuses as much on the other couple and its travails, for example, and offers universal musings on the difficulty of sustaining relationships. The movie also drew a lot of comments among viewers for its jangly, dissonant style, with the camera sweeping dizzyingly from one side of the room to the other and back again.

But, mostly, it's standard Woody Allen fare, what with its milieu of precious, over-educated, under-happy New Yorkers coupling and uncoupling against a backdrop of Dean & Deluca lunches, Mahler concerts and summer parties in the Hamptons.

"Of course there was a lot of laughter when it referred to things like his attraction to a young woman," said Cindy Rosenstein of Owings Mills, who attended the screening. "But it's just a very good Woody Allen."

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