Hannah And Her Sisters

Dir: Woody Allen, 1986. Starring: M. Caine, M. Farrow, B. Hershey, W. Allen, D. Wiest, M. Von Sydow, R. Jenkins. Drama/Comedy
Hannah And Her Sisters

Many consider Hannah And Her Sisters to be the third and best installment in Woody Allen's realistic New York "dramadies" (the other two being Annie Hall and Manhattan). While not as stylish as the previous two, and perhaps even slightly marred by some distinctly 1980's hair and wardrobe choices, the film is one of the director's most mature and dense with ideas while still balancing his knack for comedic writing.

As indicated by the title, the multiple-storied movie focuses on the love lives revolving around Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne Wiest). Hannah's husband Elliot (Michael Caine) is torn by his romantic feelings for Lee, eventually leading to an uneven affair that also has Lee re-evaluating her life with ex-professor and current lover Frederick (Max Von Sydow). Meanwhile, Hannah's ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) is a worsening hypochondriac who starts questioning the meaning of life after receiving news he might have a potential brain tumor. He also develops an interest in Holly, who is feeling secure and confidant in anything except her career or love life.

Like most of Allen's most recognized films, Hannah is more about the daily struggles of characters perhaps too smart for their own good than any sort of linear plot. Essentially weaving three or four stories in one, the film seamlessly cuts from one character's scenario to another to create one cohesive statement on what can happen when we silence our minds and listen more to our hearts--i.e., it's perhaps Allen's most optimistic film to date. It even features one of his rare happy endings, which was apparently demanded upon by the studio, but feels well earned when it finally occurs.

Though some are turned off by the fact that Hannah seems filled with only neurotic, artist/intellectual New York types, their scenarios and inner conflicts are universal to anyone who's ever felt insecure in their love and professional lives. Also refreshing is Allen's avoidance of melodrama or sentimentality whatsoever. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene in the film comes when Lee breaks up with the always cynical Frederick. In one simple and short reaction shot, Allen allows Von Sydow's performance to get the point across effectively enough.

Also memorable are the moments of awkward comedy, such as when Elliot nervously tracks down Lee through the streets of Manhattan as a plan to make it look like he accidentally bumped into her. Or the more witty throwaway scenes such as when Mickey starts to dabble in new religions and returns home with a crucifix, a painting of the Virgin Mary, and a loaf of Wonder bread.

Both epic and entirely personal and intimate, Hannah is the kind of film that makes you understand why Woody Allen gets as much admiration as he does. I even see a little bit of its structure in Pulp Fiction and Magnolia, though this is the much more understated and, in my opinion, more enriching and real film.


Hannah And Her Sisters won 3 Oscars (Best Supporting Actor - Michael Caine, Best Supporting Actress - Dianne Wiest, and Best Original Screenplay) and was nominated for 4 more.

Posted by:
Paul Losada
Feb 18, 2009 11:58am
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