Hannah and Her Sisters

Released:  1986

Cast:  Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey, Lloyd Nolan, Maureen O’Sullivan, Daniel Stern, Max von Sydow, Dianne Wiest

Oscar Wins:  Best Supporting Actor (Michael Caine), Best Supporting Actress (Dianne Wiest), Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Stuart Wurtzel, Carol Joffe), Best Film Editing (Susan E. Morse)

SUMMARY:  The film begins with a family Thanksgiving party hosted by Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her husband Elliot (Michael Caine).  Elliot is Hannah’s second husband, who has developed an infatuation with Hannah’s younger sister Lee (Barbara Hershey).  Lee is aware of Elliot’s attraction to her, but doesn’t acknowledge it.  She lives with Frederick (Max von Sydow), a very reclusive artist who is much older.  Hannah’s ex-husband, Mickey (Woody Allen), is a hypochondriac who works as a television writer.  Mickey is perpetually worried that he has developed a fatal disease.  When he was married to Hannah, Mickey discovered that he was infertile; wanting to have children, they used a donor to have twins.  When Mickey’s doctor notices a hearing loss in one ear, he sends Mickey in to have more tests.  Much to his surprise, Mickey’s fatalistic fears actually seem to be coming true:  it appears that he has a brain tumor, with only a short time to live.  Ultimately, Mickey learns that this is not the case, and that he is fine.  This near-death experience changes Mickey’s attitude, and leads him to search for the meaning of life.  He tries several different religions, and even attempts suicide, before realizing that life is meant to be enjoyed.  Meanwhile, Elliot has confessed his feelings to Lee, and the two begin an affair.  When Frederick learns of the affair, Lee leaves him; she continues to see Elliot for several months, completely unbeknownst to Hannah.

Hannah’s youngest sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest), is an actress like Hannah, but has not experienced the same success.  Multiple times, Holly has had to borrow money from Hannah, which has created resentment on Holly’s part.  For a time, Holly ran a catering company with her friend April (Carrie Fisher), but this ended after a man and a stage role came between the woman.  Holly is routinely unlucky in love; after Hannah and Mickey divorced, Holly even went on a date with Mickey (set up by Hannah) that was a disaster.  Holly is also unaware of the affair between Lee and Elliot, but hears a lot of details about Hannah and Elliot from Lee (who hears them from Elliot).  On another career whim, Holly decides to become a writer; her first script is about a couple who closely resemble Elliot and Hannah.  Hannah is very upset with this, so Holly scraps the project.  Hannah seems to suspect that Elliot may be having an affair with Lee, but he strongly refutes this, and denies having given the details that were put into Holly’s script.  The affair between Elliot and Lee ends, as Lee gets tired of waiting for Elliot to decide between her and Hannah.  She goes back to school, and eventually begins dating one of her professors.  Meanwhile, Mickey runs into Holly in a store, and she mentions her latest writing project.  Mickey volunteers to read the script, and loves it.  This time, the two actually get along; a business relationship eventually develops into a personal one.  Two years after the start of the film, at another Thanksgiving party, it is revealed that Elliot and Hannah have reconciled, and are happy.  Lee has married the professor, and Mickey and Holly have gotten married.  In the final moment, Holly tells Mickey that she’s pregnant.

MY TAKE:  I am not a big Woody Allen fan.  He seems to always play the same character:  an overtly Jewish worrier.  This remains true in this movie – the subject of Nazis comes up frequently, and Mickey is an acknowledged hypochondriac.  The constant anxiety and worrying irritates me, mostly because I’m a worrier myself, and don’t find it funny.  However, I liked this movie better than some of his other work (like Annie Hall).  I did feel kinda sorry for poor Hannah, who seems to be a wonderful person.  Her current husband is sleeping with her sister, and her ex-husband eventually marries her other sister.  Usually, this only happens to somebody who is mean and nasty to their family.  While the movie is not bad, the really interesting stuff is the outside story of the actors.  One of the minor ones is that Maureen O’Sullivan, who plays the mother of the three sisters in the movie, is Mia Farrow’s real-life mother.  The major one involves the relationship between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow.  At the time the movie was made, Mia and Woody had been involved for some time, and Mia was part of the inspiration for the story.  Several of Mia Farrow’s adopted children have cameos in the film, usually in the Thanksgiving scenes – Soon-Yi Previn is one of them.  Of course, the way in which Woody and Mia’s relationship ended is now famous, as is his current relationship.  When you look at the movie with this knowledge, it’s a little strange:  Hannah’s husband becomes infatuated with another person, and his affair with this person threatens to end his marriage to Hannah.  Not exactly the same, but enough to be eerie.

RATING:  Not bad.


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