Rereleased in UK cinemas this week courtesy of Park Circus, John Cassavetes’ Husbands (1970) showcases the renowned American director’s many talents, whilst simultaneously highlighting his unfortunately noticeable flaws. A mutual friend’s death has a deep and profound effect on three married men. After the funeral these middle-aged friends – all at that dispiriting age when “You realise you’ll never be a professional sportsman” – continue to drink excessively, indulging in maudlin songs and drunken male bonding before deciding on an impulsive trip to London.
Now well aware of their own mortality, the group find a newfound lease of life, determined to regain their freedom. As usual, Cassavetes manages to perfectly capture the raw, natural savagery of mankind, faultlessly displaying the uncivilised and uncouth mannerisms that sometimes presents themselves in our most embarrassing and shameful moments. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Husbands’ calmer, more intimate moments, with the film’s heavily improvised dialogue often faltering without the safety blanket of heightened melodrama and attention-grabbing intensity.
Commendable for its honest depiction of male chauvinism, Husbands is nevertheless also guilty of pandering to the shameful activities of its trio of male leads without ever really displaying any sense of moral retribution. At points, it feels like these exhausting scenes of domestic abuse and male bigotry have been used to merely shock rather than scrutinise, with these vilest elements of male behaviour doused in stale alcohol and a pathetic sense of despondency. Add to this the casual sexism and utter disregard for women, and you have a film that’s hard to become absorbed in.
By trying so hard to expose the pathetic nature of the male mid-life crisis, Cassavetes has created an impenetrable examination of the male psyche. Add to that an arduous runtime that seems out of synch with the film’s simplistic thematic thrust – with too many examples of Cassavetes’ inability to turn his heavily-improvised script into a concise, entertaining collection of extracts – and Husbands begins to resemble a substandard Cassavetes effort.
However, a disappointing Cassavetes film will always still worthy of your attention, if only for the director’s ability to delve into the unfathomably dark, concealed issues which lurk behind the picket fences of suburban America. Far too much drunken debauchery and backslapping and not enough depth and contemplation, Husbands is an intriguing if troubling example of Cassavetes’ distinctive oeuvre.