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Culture Edinburgh International Film Festival Film

EIFF 2022: Husband Review

Rating: 2 out of 5.

There are moments in Husband where co-directors and real life couple Josh Appignanesi and Devorah Baum genuinely seem to dislike each other’s presence, and yet by the end of the movie, we see the pair unable to hold in their laughter, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes, – an image captured by the third member in their relationship, the camera lens. The journey we go on with the couple, as filmmaker Josh follows his author wife to New York on a press tour with their two kids in tow, is set up in such a way that it lightly touches on a few weighty topics – first and foremost of course the nature of marriage and relationships themselves. However, underneath the initial stings, there isn’t really a whole lot of substance, and Husband loses himself in half heartedly touching on too much whilst not exploring any one thing fully. 

Husband as a project has been characterised as a spiritual successor to the pair’s similarly constructed 2018 docu-drama-thing The New Man, which saw them baring all to the audience and letting them peek inside their struggles with fertility, and the subsequent success/endurance of the pregnancy that followed. If The New Man lets us have a peek inside to the couple’s relationship, Husband lays things completely bare, turns up the volume, and morphs Josh and Dev into strange, exaggerated versions of themselves, of course with a grain of truth remaining at the centre of it all. The New Man garnered a touch of criticism upon release for some staged scenes, and perhaps in response to that notion Josh here deliberately plays with the idea that they are staging some things, blurring the lines so heavily that at times you lose track of the people at the heart of the matter. Devorah is listed as co-director because, while Josh does the majority of the editing, Dev still gets the last say on what gets cut and what doesn’t. Essentially, even when Husband is scripted, it’s true to reality, because being in a public couple always necessitates some editing of your image, whether it’s being on a book tour or editing your co-directed movie. 

At times, however, Husband undeniably feels hollow, more akin to a jumped up Youtube vlog than a fully fledged feature, as it doesn’t seem to really justify the length it has been given. There are moments of self-referential brilliance – like when Josh attempts to recreate a conversation he and Dev had earlier over a dinner, which she openly refuses to entertain, prompting Josh to acknowledge this blunder and sit in silence, all the while leaving the camera running, drinking in the awkward silence. Another, near the rear of the film, sees Josh, after a tender moment with his wife, asking her to film him pretending to listen to her for some filler shots during the playback of their conversation in the edit. Josh’s dopey head bobbing up and down neatly sums up what the entirety of the film was trying to achieve – the performative aspect of a relationship put to film – it’s just a shame it took us so long to get there. The sentiment is nice, but when we see lots of scenes of just Dev and Josh walking around New York, or Josh losing his passport, while it does serve to populate the world with more facets of the couple’s relationship, it ultimately doesn’t make for a riveting watch.

Josh himself acknowledges that Devorah is a much more compelling subject than he is – purposefully turning up his more egregious tendencies to give her the more flattering spotlight – and then quite literally giving her the spotlight when we watch a lengthy snippet of a conversation between Dev and fellow author Zadie Smith. About halfway through this exchange, I found myself the most engrossed I had been for the whole picture, which perhaps signals that the same concepts of Husband, whilst interesting, are better explored in some of the couple’s other works, namely Dev’s book that she discusses with Smith. Devorah’s book, Feeling Jewish, is incredibly honest about all of Devorah’s more unsavoury characteristics, and while it seems to work, this concept of being hyper-aware of your flaws is a risky one, because if stretched too thin, it can outstay its welcome, and threaten to disengage the audience, as it seems to do here, when Josh is at the helm.

Husband had its World Premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on August 16th.

Image courtesy of EIFF, provided to The Student as press material.