Vague Visages’ Husband review contains minor spoilers for Devorah Baum and Josh Appignanesi’s 2022 documentary. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Devorah Baum and Josh Appignanesi lean into love with their 2022 documentary Husband, a follow-up to the 2015 film The New Man. The English filmmakers take a more playful approach this time around, with the human ego grounding the narrative. It’s a moving ode to marital compromises, it’s an outlier of New York City cinema. Baum and Aggignanesi freestyle with their literary circle personas while sharing a unique American experience.
Husband betrays its surface-level concepts. As Baum navigates Manhattan for her first book tour, Appignanesi admits on camera that the film is indeed about him. But there’s a steady smirk on his face throughout Husband that contrasts with the uncertainty depicted in The New Man. Appignanesi seemingly performs as a fictionalized version of himself — an enigmatic side player from a Manhattan-set Woody Allen film. In reality, Husband celebrates Baum’s accomplishments as a wife, mother, author and philosopher. Some of the film’s best moments emerge when she discusses her 2017 book Feeling Jewish with friends/academics, such as the novelist Zadie Smith. In The New Man, the women chat in a kitchen. In Husband, Baum and Smith exchange ideas on a Big Apple stage.
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Husband depicts the strengthening of a marriage as the subjects’ career paths diverge. The filmmakers create a specific vibe through a jazz score and their New York setting, with Appignanesi frequently musing about leaving the pack for a bit of fun. Baum maintains the beat; the husband handles the solos. It’s a fascinating dynamic, especially given the subjects’ transparency; they discuss their perceived personality flaws while playing them up for the camera. In The New Man, Baum and Appignanesi seem ready to save the world but suffer from a shared existential crisis. In Husband, however, they seem fully engaged with the present, which allows them to laugh at the little things.
And it’s the little things that make Husband more than just a marriage documentary sequel. The filmmakers take viewers through New York City parks, bookstores and apartments. Baum and Appignanesi set up a camera in a diner, all the while politely discussing the authenticity of the moment. Jazz music complements nearly every scene, sometimes too much. A variety of inserts shots add some extra cultural flavor. Baum and Appignanesi exit the Comedy Cellar and then discuss formulaic products while walking through Greenwich Village. Husband very much feels like a New York documentary, primarily due to the filmmakers’ free jazz approach.
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Husband comedically explores whether Baum is better off without Appignanesi. The most important question, though, may be this: moving forward, can they commercialize their day-to-day video diaries? The answer is yes. Husband — a smart and self-aware documentary for adults — suggests that a third franchise installment could either be a proper literary world doc or a genre flick set within that community. Appignanesi and Baum, with all their career anxieties, fully understand how they complement each other, both personally and professionally. Husband is a gentle manipulation of reality, a declaration of the focal couple’s intent to produce familiar yet innovative work.
Husband released theatrically in February 2023. The film is available to rent via Curzon Home Cinema.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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Categories: 2020s, 2023 Film Reviews, Documentary, Featured
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