Hannah and her sisters (1986)

This is the review of Hannah and her sisters, the only Woody Allen movie I have seen complete, well that doesn’t mean the others are bad. Hannah and her sisters caught my attention when I read the synopsis on imdb, where it more or less says that the movie is about Hannah and her sisters and how they all keep changing partners until they find the perfect match for each other. That’s what it says in the synopsis, but the film actually portrays a very human phenomenon and I feel very difficult to portray, which is the loss of the dominant position within the family (which happens to Hannah towards the end) and how the rest of the people adapt to this new context following the logic of their own idiosyncrasies. To show this interesting change in the family dynamics, the director/screenwriter takes a lot of chapters to advance the plot in a very particular way (I guess for those who love Woody Allen’s films it shouldn’t be that particular, but for an initiated it is!) jumping between characters over and over again, but let’s be honest, not always with a cohesive logical structure, although honestly, what does it matter! In some parts it seems that the movie doesn’t have a defined theme, especially the parts that correspond to the character Woody Allen plays (the hypochondriac) compared to the rest of the movie, don’t seem to have a thematic relation until almost the end of the story. None of this detracts from the entertainment and interest of the story, which concludes with this change in the hierarchical structure of the family.

But… what is the movie about? Well, it’s mostly about Hannah’s sisters, who start the story without having reached the fullness of their lives (without having formed a stable family), unlike Hannah, who welcomes them happily at home with her husband and daughters. At this point in the film, Hannah has the upper hand with her sisters and stands as the benevolent and concerned queen, ready to help but also to remind them of all the problems that keep the family in the way it is currently configured. After the opening scene, where they come together to celebrate Thanksgiving, we spend part of the film watching Hannah’s husband get involved in a love affair with Lee (the sister played by Barbara Hershey), who is living with an older painter (who was also her teacher). At the same time, Holly (the sister played by Dianne Wiest) struggles to find work as a theater actress with her friend April, who ends up beating her in the castings… and in love too! So it goes with poor Holly, who in one revealing scene realizes that, although she has some acting chops, she can’t compete with her friend’s talent and panache.

So let’s say that the film is about Hannah having a settled life (or so she thinks), while her sisters struggle to build a meaningful life following their desires (obvious because the film is also based on the story of an extended family with enough resources). While Holly takes a path that leads her to abandon her dreams of becoming an actress, to later make the decision to try her hand as a writer, Lee leaves the painter to maintain a clandestine relationship with Hannah’s husband. While this happens, we are also involved in the story of Mickey (Woody Allen), who suffers from hypochondria and even fantasizes about being diagnosed with terminal cancer, a situation that leads him to lose the meaning of life and seek solace in different religions. It is worth mentioning that Mickey is Hannah’s first husband and that their relationship was ruined after Mickey discovers that he is infertile. So, while Mickey, who is a television writer, debates with the gods about the fate of life, Holly and Lee wander again and again in the search for emotional stability.

And how does the story end? Well, in the end everyone is happy except Hannah and her husband Elliot, who pay for the success of Hannah’s sisters via worsening their own relational situation. Partly because the first script Holly writes relates to Hannah’s life, with things about her that are personal and that she resents being known (although we could also interpret that she is really upset that her sister is achieving success and this makes her uncomfortable). The other problem that the couple faces in the end is Elliot’s infidelity with Lee, something that is never explicitly talked about in the film, but that constantly appears in the sense of guilt that surrounds both characters, although Lee decides to put an end to the affair and return to study at the university, where she falls in love again with a professor (some people don’t change). But hey, in the end it feels like the movie is about Holly and Mickey, at least they manage to make some change and be happy together (not counting that catastrophic first date). I have the impression that Hannah appears more as the pillar that unifies the stories than as a leading character, so sometimes I think if the movie shouldn’t have been called “Holly and her sisters”, but well, that’s up to the creators I guess. As far as movies about love relationships go, I’d say this film is definitely one of the best I’ve seen, especially because of the clarity in the development of the characters and the conversations between them, the situations they have to face! Things that seem so mundane at a quick glance but are so important in each person’s life story that seeing them portrayed on screen is very interesting. I’m referring to moments like the declaration of an infidelity, a date that goes wrong, the search for a sperm donor or others that we encounter throughout the hour and forty-six minutes that the film lasts.

The good:

  • The characters and the situations they face.
  • Mickey’s religious journey.
  • The end of the story.

The bad:

  • On a few occasions I feel that the device of the character having a monologue in the middle of an action doesn’t come across well constructed (not on all occasions but definitely on some).

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