Review: HOURLY HUSBAND, A Low-Brow Comedy About Midlife Relationships

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
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Review: HOURLY HUSBAND, A Low-Brow Comedy About Midlife Relationships
The Czech comedy Hourly Husband, a feature debut by Tomáš Svoboda, who comes from a theatre environment, falls into the niche of easy-going comedies designed after a rather folksy blueprint. 

Hourly Husband addresses the very particular issues of a very particular socio-demographic group, pouring obstacles of mundane life, such as financial problems, unemployment and family schism, into a narrative zoomed in on relationships. It's all presented in an unsophisticated and straightforward manner, turning into a mindless giddy adventure with its morality carefully closeted. 

Honza (David Novotný), an average Joe, takes care of a community swimming pool where he and his three buddies indulge in testosterone-releasing activity: water polo. Their ritual is soon disrupted by a hygienist marching in and shutting the pool down. Awkwardly enough, Honza rigidly ignored the accumulating debt of the business, and now bill collectors are knocking at the door. 

As an newly-indebted and unemployed man, he keeps his changed status under wraps from his wife, and enters a race against time to keep his manly dignity -- not to mention his marriage -- from falling apart. Meanwhile, his wife is suffering from the emotional inertia in their marriage, as the initial romantic spark has long since dissipated. She joins a local group of men-despising women who are discovering their true, emancipated side. 

As the title unambiguously suggests, her friends start running a service targeted at women who do not have men to handle routine "man-stuff." They intend to raise money and save their friend, as well as the swimming pool. 

The Danish hit television series Klown may be regarded as sexist, and maybe in some conservative corners of the world even offensive, yet the creativity and skills of the gags and narratives elevated the entire series to a new and higher level of comic insight. Klovn belongs to a completely different and superior league. Such is not the case with Hourly Husband.  

Despite a rather expected and unoriginal inventory of gags anchored in low-grade sexism and the objectification of women as fodder for them, Svoboda operates in a comfort zone, comedy-wise, and sticks to antics according to the age of the characters, meaning no teenage nonsense. He opts more for the embarrassment type of comedy, as when the elderly polo trainer Milan (Bolek Polívka) dusts cobwebs off his dating skills and, in order to spare his lady disappointment, he pops the blue pill. Only after the effects kick in does he find himself at the wrong address, and he must relocate with a loaded a gun, so to speak, to the opposite part of the city, to the amusement of bystanders. 

In better cases, comedies serve as a form of social commentary, an effort Svoboda makes in mapping the landscape of relationships. In addition to Honza´s pursuit to stabilize his marriage, other relationship templates have been pinned onto supporting characters. The trainer Milan, having years of life experience, is the wise guy, cumbersome around ladies since his wife left him yet he still tries to fight off loneliness. Divorced Jakub (David Matásek) is the geek of the group, always mistakenly evaluating ladies, with broad hints that he has been hiding in the closet for a while. 

Kryštof (Lukáš Latinák) is the most flat character, lacking any background exposition; his is the most explicit embodiment of a boyish free spirit. Overweight and bald Honza does not exactly fit the notion of Casanova yet he is the only one engaging in the expected activities of an "hourly husband."  

Hourly Husband is mostly a gentleman's ride, poking fun from the male perspective at relationships, such as the peculiar case of Honza's wife. While her husband wallows in an extramarital affair, in spite of the fact that he tries to get back to her, she preserves her out-of-wedlock virginity, still resisting the impuslse toward infidelity. Oddly enough, Honza realizes how he (mis)treated his wife after suffering a similar fate from his mistress. The fairy-tale mechanics apply to virtually every single problem. 

Czech comic veteran Zdeněk Svěrák explored similarly-themed material with significant grace in an uplifting comedy about love, sex and death way past middle-age checkpoint- retirement in Empties (2006). In the end, Hourly Husband is a modern, easy-going fairy tale about relationships in middle age never stepping outside a grey, average zone. 

Hourly Husband is now in general theatrical release in Slovakia and Czech Republic
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