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HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (director/writer: Woody Allen; cinematographer: Carlo Di Palma; editor: Susan E. Morse; cast: Mia Farrow (Hannah), Woody Allen (Mickey Sachs), Barbara Hershey (Lee), Dianne Wiest (Holly), Carrie Fisher (April Knox), Michael Caine (Elliot), Maureen O’Sullivan (Norma, Hannah’s mom), Lloyd Nolan (Evan, Hannah’s dad), Max von Sydow (Frederick), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Mary), Julie Kavner (Gail), J. T. Walsh (Ed Smythe), Lewis Black (Paul), John Turturro (writer), Sam Waterston (David), Daniel Stern (Dusty), Tony Roberts (Normam, Mickey’s ex writing partner), Bobby Short (Himself), Ira Wheeler (Dr. Abel), Joanna Gleason (Carol); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Robert Greenhut; MGM Home Entertainment; 1986)
“The comedy-drama succeeds as a sharply pointed portrait of sibling rivalry.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Woody Allen (“Zelig”/”Manhattan”/”Broadway Danny Rose”) is writer, director and costar of this Chekhov-like family drama that’s set in New York. It tells of a closely-knit artistic showbiz family’s lives, frailties, infidelities, loves and relationships. The fractious family features the still working show business elderly parents (Maureen O’Sullivan & Lloyd Nolan), who have a testy relationship as mom is an alcoholic and dad a skirt chaser (O’Sullivan is Mia Farrow’s real mom). Their three adult daughters include the eldest Hannah (Mia Farrow), the most stable of the sisters and their inspirational leader, who gave up a successful acting career to raise her twins from her first marriage in an apartment on Central Park West. She’s divorced from the stressed-out, neurotic and hypochondriac successful TV producer Mickey Sachs (Woody Allen) and is married to the neurotic but successful financial adviser to rock stars Elliot (Michael Caine), who has guilt-feelings that he has his lecherous eyes on his wife’s beautiful youngest sister Lee (Barbara Hershey). Lee’s living with her arrogant tormented older mentor, Frederick (Max von Sydow), a caustically witty and intellectual artist residing in SoHo, and is surprisingly a recovered alcoholic. Holly (Dianne Wiest) is the troubled bright middle sister who never found success and is envious of Hannah, thinking she has a perfectly blissful existence. The self-hating Holly had a cocaine problem and is still on the road to recovery, and often borrows money from the generous Hannah and borrows again to run a catering venture; but she sulks because she has no luck with men or that her aspirations to be an actress are not realized. Holly sometimes dates Mickey, but her latest love interest is a dreamboat architect named David (Sam Waterston) who is being pursued by her catering partner rival April (Carrie Fisher).

The film opens with a crowded family reunion Thanksgiving party hosted by Hannah and Elliot (filmed in Farrow’s actual New York apartment) and covers what happens to the family over a two-year period, as it’s framed around a closing Thanksgiving celebration. It’s well-written, well-acted and well-crafted soap opera, that’s elevated by the fine execution, sheer intelligence of the story, a convincing upbeat ending and the warmth of the family scene despite all the problems. The comedy-drama succeeds as a sharply pointed portrait of sibling rivalry. In the end, salvation for Mickey, who is facing a medical crisis over a possible brain tumor, is not found in his search for God but comes from his enjoyment of the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup. Salvation for the film, is that it mixes comedy with serious drama and that there’s mature poignancy over each character looking for a meaning to their life but finding they are only too human in erring and can only learn what is right or wrong from their own experiences and not necessarily from reading or seeing a shrink or withdrawing from life.

Caine is in his first Oscar-winning performance for Best Supporting Actor, Dianne Wiest took an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Woody Allen took one home for his screenplay. This was one of Woody Allen’s most financially and critically successful films. The sites of Manhattan are beautifully shot by the great Italian cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, who after this first time working with Woody went on to make a number of other films with him.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”