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ALLEN'S `HUSBANDS AND WIVES' ECHOES PERSONAL PROBLEMS

Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" will probably appeal to his fans, but even they will be taken aback by the resonances that exist between his screenplay here and his personal life, which has been making tabloid headlines for weeks.

Yes, there are lines of dialogue about dating younger women, and Mia Farrow's character questions the fidelity of Allen's character, etc.But let's try to put all that aside and just review the movie.

Allen has taken a pseudo-documentary approach with his camera here, following two couples (Allen and Farrow, Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack) through their marital ups and downs over a brief period of time.

As the film opens, Davis and Pollack breeze into Allen and Farrow's apartment and blithely announce that they are getting divorced. Allen and Farrow are devastated - particularly Farrow, who carries on about it so much that she makes everyone else more uncomfortable than they were to begin with.

As time passes, Pollack takes up with much-younger women and Davis is unable to deal with a return to dating, especially when she's introduced by Farrow to a nice guy (Liam Neeson), who becomes obsessed with her.

Meanwhile, Allen begins a platonic relationship with a 20-year-old aspiring writer (Juliette Lewis, the daughter in "Cape Fear") and Farrow starts questioning her feelings for her husband.

Allen is in top form here, exploring modern relationships in a style that brings to mind his best films - "Annie Hall," "Manhattan" and "Hannah and Her Sisters." But the documentary motif, which would seem to hearken back to one of his earlier works, "Take the Money and Run," is a bit overdone, not really parallel in its structure and sometimes awfully distracting.

Also interesting is that unlike Allen's other films, the female characters here are far from sympathetic - especially Farrow's, who comes off as manipulative, selfish and unpleasant.

Though there are many very funny elements here, "Husbands and Wives" is not strictly a comedy. Even the one-liners seem to have an edge ("Life doesn't imitate art - it imitates bad television") and the insights are equal parts amusing and painful, with an ambiguity in the end that leaves us to make up our own minds about what these people have gone through. It does not make for a "happy ending."

Still, when Allen hits the mark, he really hits it. And, as usual, the performances he pulls from his players are uniformly excellent, with especially remarkable jobs by Davis and Pollack, who are not afraid to show the dark sides of their characters.

"Husbands and Wives" is also Allen's first R-rated film since "Manhattan," primarily for language. There is also some vulgarity, sex, brief nudity and violence.