Directed by John Cassavetes. Starring Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, Jenny Runacre Club, IFI, Dublin, 138 min
GUS, HARRY and Archie (John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk) are married 40-something New York suburbanites thrown into crisis by the death of a mutual close friend. Unnerved by a sudden sense of mortality and long soul-searching takes around bars and basketball courts, the three men head to London for a series of excruciating sexual misadventures.
First time around, Cassavetes’s loose-limbed, baggy and defiantly lo-fi 1970 drama was afforded a mostly frosty reception. In an era when all New Hollywood films might have brandished the subheading “America”, the very notion of a domestic-level improv seemed abrasively trivial.
Time, however, has been kind to the film-maker’s oeuvre in general and Husbands in particular. Now, having been upgraded from cinematic footnote to official deity of Sundance hopefuls, mumblecore mavens and film students, Husbands is bang on trend.
The film’s queries and quibbles with masculinity might form the backbone of a handwringing, 21st- century jeremiad on male identity. Its depiction of unreconstructed patriarchs is very Mad Men. The shaky house style is downright fashionable at a point when Cassavetes echoes noisily through everything from the current vogue for no-budget sci-fi to Lena Dunham-brand femsploitation.
Interestingly, Husbands’ depiction of middle-class men in midlife crisis seems to provide both the inspiration and a ret-con riposte to the likes of Dunham’s Girls. Gus, Harry and Archie are unforgivable, self-pitying jerks who drone endlessly on about the burdens of family (“five children, two houses, four garages, two cars,” they calculate) and harbour horrific double standards toward the opposite sex. Still, they’re too complex and human to be as base as the creatures that frequent the contemporary hipster dramedy.
Husbands’ longueurs and wobbly shots of improvised tangents never congeal into anything as satisfying as Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Gloria or A Woman Under the Influence. But, in contrast with director’s mean-spirited inheritors, the film does own that husbands – even rubbish ones – are people too.