Bottom Line: Now’s the time for a horrible pun: this film is “Han”-tastic!
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Barbara Hershey, Dianne Wiest, Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Woody Allen
I’m a devout fan of director Woody Allen’s films, and I hold a higher respect for him than I do for any other filmmaker. After seeing quite a handful of his films, I’m well aware that his films are often structured very similarly. His scripts are mainly dramatic with romantic bits, wry and sarcastic humor, characters that are anything from narcissistic to hypocritical (especially the ones he himself plays), small assortments of jazz music, frank discussions of religion and politics, subdued endings, and black and white title sequences. Despite HANNAH AND HER SISTERS being no different in its structure–if anything, it emphasizes on each and every one of those components–it seems to be something we haven’t yet seen before. Clearly, structure isn’t everything.
The story centers not on Hannah (Mia Farrow) and not her sisters, Lee and Holly, but rather the figures involved with them. The film is technically about Hannah’s sturdy husband Elliot (Michael Caine) and her hypochondriac ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen). Starting on one Thanksgiving Day and ending on the following, we are told of two growing relationships: one between Elliot and Lee (Barbara Hershey), the other between Mickey and Holly (Dianne Wiest). The plot seems a bit complex, but it’s actually quite simple. It looks even more simple when we look at CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, Allen’s soap opera-esque film that seems like a rambunctiously confusing follow-up in comparison.
It was Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine that won Academy Awards for their great performances here. Though it may not be the only example, it’s the best proof that the Academy does not particularly appreciate roles that are purely humor. Allen was absolutely hysterical in this film, and his performance was stellar, albeit entirely comical. Anyone who has seen at least three of his onscreen appearances is used to his portrayals of prejudiced Jewish men who blatantly discuss Catholicism and its many flaws. I was laughing like never before during scenes in which his character rambled on about how the world was a godless place, and when he tried hopelessly to understand reincarnation (“So does that mean my soul is transferred to a moose or an aardvark after I die?”) in a conversation with an advertising Hindu. The fact that his role is of a depressed hypochondriac who can’t seem to tale himself seriously makes way for even more humor.
I thoroughly enjoyed HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, as did many who consider it the downright classic it is. The film is so entertaining, biting, amusing, and forgiving–all at the same time!–that it seems it’s only flawed in a respect of it seeming more than a tad bit dated. The cinematography often makes it seem like a cheesy television sitcom of the late ’80s or early ’90s. I wouldn’t say this is Woody Allen’s best work. My personal favorite work of his is 1979’s MANHATTAN, followed closely by his overlooked sci-fi satire SLEEPER. To say that this is not up there as one of his best works would be a gross understatement.