Hannah and Her Sisters – 1986
I need to start this review by saying that it was a good movie except for one thing. Woody Allen is insufferable. For the most part, Allen is a good writer and a good director. But he is a one-note actor who is so annoying that I just want to reach through the screen and strangle him. He plays the same character in everything I have ever seen him in, and in 1986, he was still in the habit of putting himself in every one of his films. Woody Allen’s movies would be great if they didn’t star Woody Allen. There, I got it out of my system.
Anyway, the rest of the cast was very good, especially Michael Caine and Diane Wiest. Barbara Hershey and Mia Farrow were also good, as were Max Von Sydow and Julie Kavner. Farrow played the role of Hannah, while Hershey played her sister Lee, and Wiest played her sister Holly. Hannah’s husband Elliot, played by Caine, lusts after, and eventually begins an affair with Lee. Von Sydow plays Lee’s boyfriend, Frederick, who disappears after the illicit affair begins. Allen, himself, played Mickey, Hannah’s ex-husband who eventually ends up with Holly.
The film actually has very little plot, but is more of a bunch of character studies, delving into the personalities of the ensemble cast. Typical of Allen’s movies, we hear inner monologues of most of the main cast, giving us a greater sense of their thoughts and feelings. The plot, itself was very episodic and was made up of little stories that were strung together like pearls.
The main plot follows the affair between Elliot and Lee, going into how it endangers Elliot’s marriage to Hannah. But the movie also spends significant time, possibly too much time, following Mickey and his neurotic hypochondria. After all, the movie was supposed to be about Hannah and her Sisters, not Mickey and his search for meaning in his life. Again, we see Woody Allen playing himself. He tries to show, through his character, how witty and charming he is. And I have to admit that the writing and the dialogue is more clever than most. I just don’t buy it coming from the frazzled and overly nervous Allen.
But both Caine and Wiest won the Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress for their efforts. But an actor or actress will only win those kinds of awards if the script is a good one, and I have to give credit where credit is due. Woody Allen’s original script was well written and clever. The dialogue was witty and amusing. The structure of the film was well thought out and developed. Allen decided to break the film up into chapters, each with its own title screen. The story took placed over the course of two years, starting with a Thanksgiving gathering, visiting a second one in the middle, and ending with a third. The first was set-up for the script’s main plot. The second covered the over-all conflict. And finally, the third showed us the resolution. It was all neat, tidy, and easy to follow. In other words, there is no denying that Woody Allen is a talented writer.
But if I had to pick a favorite actor out of the cast, it would be Wiest. Her character, Holly was a former cocaine addict who had so little direction in her life that she was constantly trying new things, new career paths. But she had so little focus that she rarely remained with a single idea for too long. We all know someone like that, making her character easy to recognize and identify with.
There were also a number of recognizable faces in the supporting cast that I was pleasantly surprised to see. Carrie Fisher played April, Holly’s friend or enemy, depending on your point of view. Then there was Joanna Gleason, Lewis Black, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, J. T. Walsh, John Turturro, Daniel Stern, and Sam Waterston, each playing bit parts with very little screen time.
The research I have done has shown me that many consider Hannah and Her Sisters to be some of Woody Allen’s best work. But honestly, I‘m not sure. I’ve never been a huge fan of his movies so I’m not the best person to judge. The only other Woody Allen Film to be nominated for the Best Picture Award before this was 1977’s Annie Hall, which actually won the coveted honor. I have since learned that his 2011 film Midnight in Paris was also nominated for Best Picture. I’ve heard it said that when it comes to Woody Allen films, you either love them or you hate them, but I beg to differ. I like the scripts. I just can’t stand Woody Allen.