Hannah and Her Sisters – 1986
Director – Woody Allen
Starring – Michael Caine, Diane Wiest, Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, and Woody Allen,
I have a long history of not really liking the films of Woody Allen. I feel my reasons are and were sound, and should you like to know why I haven’t liked them, you can see them explained here and here, or I can quickly summarize…Diane Keaton. Okay, to be fair, that isn’t the only thing that doesn’t appeal to me about his films, it certainly doesn’t help them out in my opinion though. But recently the strangest thing happened to me. I saw a Woody Allen film that while well thought of, isn’t one of the ones that every one mentions when talking about Allen (those being Annie Hall, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the worst film ever made, Manhattan Murder Mystery). The film in question was inhabited by real characters that actually could exist outside of the confines of New York City (although they don’t necessarily need to). They are subject to a real emotions, and motivations that weren’t added for comic value. Strangest of all…I liked this film quite a bit.
Mia Farrow plays Hannah, the trustworthy, dependable, and somewhat discounted anchor to her family. Her sisters, played by Diane Wiest, and Barbara Hershey, use her as a means of support in their endeavors. Hannah’s parents waffle between lovey-dovey, starry-eyed affection, and drunken accusations with a touch of distrust. In an effort to hold their relationship together, Hannah is put into the role of arbitrator and peace-keeper, all the while attempting to keep her own life and marriage on track.
Hannah’s husband, Eliott, played by Michael Caine, sees her as a boring but necessary part of his life, instead lusting after her sister Lee. The both of them enter into an adulterous relationship based solely on lust and desire, and only later confront their desires for stability, reassurance, and regularity that each receives from Hannah. Though Wiest’s character, Holly, has a much less destructive relationship with her sister she is still constantly borrowing money which she uses for a variety of failed career ventures.
As usual Allen puts himself in the film, although this time around he relegates himself to a much smaller role. As Mickey, Hannah’s ex husband, he plays one of the few redeemed characters in the film (not in a bad way mind you, every one in the film is perfectly cast in their roles), and the relationship that develops throughout the course of the film provides the film with a rich, tangible, and completely enjoyable center.
Though it lacks the groundbreaking structure of something like Annie Hall, and doesn’t quite provide the super iconic imagery of something like Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters is by far one of Allen’s best (right up there with the aforementioned Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors). Allen’s fascination with the existence of God and the meaning of life has never been handled better than it is here, and neither has the pay-off from such questions. By the end of the film, my heart was singing, and my own troubles were forgotten, left for another time.
It is at this point that Allen fans could rightfully tell me, “I told you so…” (although they’d be only half right). So consider me told.