The film is about two couples: Jack (Pollack) and Sally (Davis), and Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Farrow). The film starts when Jack and Sally arrive at Gabe and Judy's apartment and announce their separation. Gabe is shocked, but Judy takes the news personally and is very hurt. Still confused, they go out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
A few weeks later Sally goes to the apartment of a colleague. They plan to go out together to the opera and then to dinner. Sally asks if she can use his phone, and calls Jack. Learning from him that he has met someone, she accuses him of having had an affair during their marriage.
Judy and Gabe are introduced to Jack's new girlfriend, Sam, an aerobics trainer. While Judy and Sam shop, Gabe calls Jack's new girlfriend a "cocktail waitress" and tells him that he is crazy for leaving Sally for her. About a week later, Judy introduces Sally to Michael (Neeson), Judy's magazine colleague who she clearly is interested in herself. Michael asks Sally out, and they begin dating; Michael is smitten, but Judy is dissatisfied with the relationship.
Meanwhile, Gabe has developed a friendship with a young student of his, Rain, and has her read the manuscript for his working novel. She comments on its brilliance, though has several criticisms, to which Gabe reacts defensively.
At a party, Jack learns from a friend that Sally is seeing someone, and flies into a jealous rage. He and Sam break up after an intense argument, and Jack drives back to his house to find Sally in bed with Michael. He asks Sally to give their marriage another chance, but she tells him to leave.
Less than two weeks later, however, Jack and Sally are back together and the couple meet Judy and Gabe for dinner like old times. After dinner, Judy and Gabe get into an argument about her not sharing her poetry. After Gabe makes a failed pass at her, Judy tells him that she thinks the relationship was over; a week later Gabe moves out. Judy begins seeing Michael.
Gabe goes to Rain's 21st birthday party, and gives her a music box as a present. She asks him to kiss her, and though the two share a passionate romantic moment, Gabe tells her that they should not pursue it any further. As he walks home in the rain, he realizes that he has ruined his relationship with Judy.
Michael tells Judy he needs time alone, then says he can't help still having feelings for Sally. Angry and hurt, Judy walks out into the rain. Highlighting her "passive aggressiveness," Michael follows and begs her to stay with him. A year and a half later they marry.
At the end, the audience sees a pensive Jack and Sally back together. Jack and Sally admit their marital problems still exist (her frigidity is not solved), but they find they accept their problems as simply the price they have to pay to remain together.
Gabe is living alone because he says he is not dating for the time being, as he does not want to hurt anyone. The film ends with an immediate cut to black after Gabe asks the unseen documentary crew, "Can I go? Is this over?"
Husbands and Wives opened on September 18, 1992 in 865 theatres, where it earned $3,520,550 ($4,070 per screen) in its opening weekend. It went on to gross $10.5 million in North America during its theatrical run. The film was also screened at the 1992 Toronto Film Festival.
Husbands and Wives opened to universal acclaim from film critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 36 reviews, with an average score of 8.3/10.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it a full four-star review and called it "a defining film for these emotionally embattled times; it's classic Woody Allen."Todd McCarthy of Variety similarly praised the film as "a full meal, as it deals with the things of life with intelligence, truthful drama and rueful humor."
Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it a "a very fine, sometimes brutal comedy about a small group of contemporary New Yorkers, each an edgy, self-analyzing achiever who goes through life without much joy, but who finds a certain number of cracked satisfactions along the way." He added, "'Husbands and Wives' -- the entire Allen canon, for that matter -- represents a kind of personal cinema for which there is no precedent in modern American movies. Even our best directors are herd animals. Mr. Allen is a rogue: he travels alone."Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times opined, "... what 'Husbands and Wives' argues is that many 'rational' relationships are actually not as durable as they seem, because somewhere inside every person is a child crying me! me! me! We say we want the other person to be happy. What we mean is, we want them to be happy with us, just as we are, on our terms."