Film Review: ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’


Woody Allen, director of Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) which stars Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine, once said, “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose”. A word of advice then when watching this new Park Circus rerelease of Hannah and Her Sisters – avoid milk at all costs. Over two Thanksgivings, Hannah’s husband Elliot (Caine) falls in love with his sister-in-law Lee (Barbara Hershey), whilst Hannah’s neurotic, hypochondriac ex-husband Mickey (Allen) deals with all manner of problems ranging from quitting his TV writing job to dating his own ex-sister-in-law Holly (Wiest).

The charm of Hannah and Her Sisters lies in the witty dialogue and juxtaposition of drama and comedy. Accompanying the film is a gentle exposition of art, poetry, classical music and cinema. There are wonderful examined in little nuggets of gold where the characters seamlessly bounce from one subject to another whilst constantly avoiding their feelings, all of which is achieved in a manner reminiscent of Wodehouse or Fitzgerald.

Caine’s performance as Elliot is wonderful, a role for which he deservedly earned an Academy Award, a fact that is made all the more impressive because this was a time for Caine where he signed to more movies that Nicolas Cage currently is, including the dubious Jaws: The Revenge (1987). It is the character of Lee, played by Hershey, who steals the show as the confused, naive, beautiful heroine, who near forces the audience to fall in love with her. Allen’s Mickey is of course a loose shadow of himself but nonetheless incredibly enjoyable and spot on.

Along with the wonderful script, again which won an Oscar, and exquisite performances, is a magical score that flows between classical, jazz and punk rock. The music kindles that Allen spirit of the bygone Jazz Age whilst at the same time contemporary to 1980’s New York. For all of the criticism aimed at it for being yet another Manhattan upper-middle class drama full or high art humour, one could never accuse Hannah and Her Sisters of snobbery. Like all good Allen films, at its heart is an intricate love story and if there is one thing that Allen understands, it is the crazy, capricious and confusing nature of love – in short, cinematic gold.

Joe Walsh