Review by-Jarrett Leahy
In a decade chock-full of sugar coated popcorn sellers, Hannah and her Sisters is a breath of fresh air, proving that truly great films were still made during the 1980’s. Like many of Woody Allen’s movies, Hannah and her Sisters is filmed in New York City and revolves around an extended family’s saga set over a two year period.
The matriarchal rock of the family is Hannah, played by Mia Farrow. Farrow’s performance is so understated at times that you may miss the subtle greatness she brings. It’s Hannah’s job to solve the problems of her family, loaning money and doling out advice to her forever lost sister Holly (Dianne Wiest), squelching drunken squabbles between her now elderly parents, and juggling the life of a mother of four and wife to a husband (Michael Caine) who now has a wandering infatuation with her other sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey).
Woody Allen’s contribution to the film is Mickey, who is Hannah’s ex-husband. A hypochondriac and wracked with insecurities, Mickey is a neurotic TV producer and a character type we’ve met before from Allen, but somehow he feels fresh here. Ever fearful of death, Mickey’s constant search for God and the meaning of life become a wonderful interjection of comic relief to help balance out some of the more dramatic scenes.
Michael Caine gives a top notch performance as Hannah’s cheating husband Elliot and rightfully received the Academy award for Best Supporting Actor. However it’s Dianne Wiest’s Oscar winning portrayal of Holly that is the most memorable of the film. A struggling actress with a checkered past and a compulsive desire to jump from career to career, Holly is in constant struggle to find her way in life. Sponging off Hannah to help fund these drastic career changes, the character of Holly runs the risk of being despised by the viewer. But it is Wiest who brings a genuine charm to the role, completely committing to the neurotic self-centeredness required to sell a character like this, and it is this sweet and honest commitment that makes us root for her.
The true gift of this film comes from its amazing script, which was written by Allen, who received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Dialogue driven and set up in a vignette style, it allows the wonderful ensemble of A-list actors to deliciously play off one another. Allen also shows an adept skill with his use of the camera. During family gatherings, characters move in and out of the shot so naturally, as if we the viewer are just the proverbial fly on the wall observing the interactions among the various family members.
Over the years Woody Allen has become a polarizing filmmaker, probably due more to his personal life then his actual film-making. Many critics love to point toward his earlier works, Annie Hall and Manhattan, as his best efforts. There is no disputing the greatness of those films, and many others he has created. But it is Hannah and her Sisters, a timeless dramatic comedy about growth, love, and redemption that is Woody Allen’s best, and a true gem to come from the 1980’s decade.