Hannah and her Sisters (1986) is a comedy/ drama written and directed by Woody Allen. The film winds through a two-year period in the hectic lives of several characters who are all somehow connected to the part-time actress and full-time mother, Hannah (Mia Farrow). Hannah’s husband, Elliot (Michael Caine), is dealing with a growing attraction to his sister-in-law, Lee (Barbara Hershey), who is struggling with her own relationship and the murky details of her future. Hannah’s other sister, Holly (Dianne West), is also worrying about her future, trying to make ends meet, and struggling to find love and a career. Meanwhile, Hannah’s ex-husband, Micky (Woody Allen), tries to find overall peace and meaning in life. The characters’ lives interact in flashbacks and not-so-coincidental meetings, revealing both embarrassing and hopeful truths about life. The film includes many of Woody Allen’s trademarks, including cast members that he previously worked with (such as Mia Farrow and Dianne West).
The movie, rated PG-13, will appeal most to adults who can appreciate life’s sticky situations and rough patches, including career competition, taking care of elderly parents, and infertility. While it’s not a side-splitting comedy, subtle humor can be found in Woody Allen’s self- deprecating but honest dialogue. The pervading genre, however, is drama, as the film deals with complicated relationships, anxiety, and difficult life decisions. These themes lend the film to be character-driven. Woody Allen takes lots of time to study each character with intimate dialogue and voice-overs that expose their thoughts. Situations in the plot such as affairs and possible life threatening illnesses also reveal a lot about the characters. While the plot is unique, it is the characters that really drive the film forward.
Allen throws the audience right into those character- revealing situations, immediately exposing Elliot’s lustful desire for his sister-in-law in the first scene. While most of the situations lead to character vs. character conflict, such as Holly arguing with her sister for not supporting her, the most prevailing conflict in the film is character vs. self. Elliot must decide how much his wife really means to him, Holly must find enough self-confidence to move forward in her career, Micky must find something to believe in, and so on.
For me, the film succeeded. Allen’s fast-paced dialogue took some getting used to, and I had to pay lots of attention in the first few scenes to keep up with everything. But I was easily drawn to the characters, and it was a joy to watch them develop. The acting was superb. I couldn’t identify any actors that seemed especially weak; each one seemed realistic and comfortable in front of the camera. Each of the three female leads, the three sisters, were well-crafted characters. The film took plenty of time to explore all of their strengths and weaknesses. The jazzy music helped to established the New York City aesthetic (another Woody Allen trademark) while also keeping the mood light in hectic situations. I also appreciate that the film did not end with an overwhelming life lesson or moral. While the film showed life as a hopeful experience, it did not push perfect, happy endings.