Husband review – family-man study is Made in Chelsea meets Curb Your Enthusiasm

Docu-comedy follows married directors Josh Appignanesi and Devorah Baum to New York in a subtle follow-up to The New Man

Film-maker Josh Appignanesi has in the past made successful movies: Song of Songs, in the high arthouse mode in 2005, and popular satire The Infidel in 2010. But co-directing with his wife, author and academic Devorah Baum, he has recently got in front of the camera and hit a rich new seam of autofictional or possibly autofactual docu-comedy. The New Man documented – or sneakily semi-fabricated – Appignanesi as the hyper-annoying expectant dad with madly dishevelled hair who is unable to help his pregnant partner in any practical way, and feels existentially undermined by the whole process.

Now Appignanesi and Baum are back: it is three years later and they have two children. Baum is going to New York on a prestigious signing/lecture tour to promote her book about feelings: Appignanesi is going along (and so are the kids, and a niece to look after them) to make a film about his own feelings on the matter. Baum thoughtfully paces the New York streets with Appignanesi capering beside her, jabberingly excited and yet weirdly and pre-emptively depressed about anything disappointing or bad that might happen in the future. To his wife’s exasperation, he is once again the massively unhelpful overgrown manchild.

And yet, you wouldn’t quite get from this film that Baum has written extensively about jokes and comedy. Could it be that she is just slightly exaggerating her sober image to offset Josh’s wackiness? At all events, he is theoretically there to support her career, but in practice, she is also there to support his career. She talks shrewdly about feelings and how we manage and deny them: and yet both Baum and Appignanesi can’t quite reveal their feelings about what is really happening here, their feelings about how much is real and how far the squabbles are hammed up for the camera.

Husband is a complex, subtle kind of guided reality show, like Made in Chelsea with a hint of Curb Your Enthusiasm. As with The New Man, I finished this movie believing that Appignanesi and Baum are just the people to make a metropolitan comedy in the style of Agnès Jaoui or Noah Baumbach or Woody Allen. But maybe the temptations of further chronicling their relationship in future films will be too great.

• Husband is released on 3 February in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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