Sunday, 16 September 2012

Hannah and Her Sisters

In typical Woody Allen fashion, Hannah and Her Sisters is a comedy-drama that intertwines several stories from a large cast. The plot centres around three sisters and their often interconnecting relationships. Hannah (Mia Farrow) is a successful Actress and married to financial advisor Elliot (Michael Caine) who in turn is infatuated with Hannah’s sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey). Lee is in a relationship with a reclusive artist named Frederick (Max von Sydow) but begins to realise that she too has feelings for Elliot. The third sister Holly (Dianne Wiest) is an unsuccessful Actress who is recovering from a cocaine addiction. The final piece of the jigsaw is a hypochondriac TV Producer and Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) whose philosophy on life changes as the plot progresses due to the sudden realisation that he will one day die.

The film is set over a two year period but also contains flashbacks to times before the narrative began to contextualise certain relationships. Voice over from several of the actors provide the audience with access to the characters inner thoughts as the merry go round of associations and affairs slowly unfolds. The film is witty and sometimes interesting but for a fairly short film, it felt long and sometimes tedious.

Woody Allen is renowned for creating stories with large casts and intertwining and interconnecting ideas and plots and Hannah and Her Sisters is one of the better examples of this. The cast is fabulous, featuring not only those mentioned above but also Carrie Fisher, Maureen O’Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, Daniel Stern, Julie Kavner, Bobby Short, John Turturro, Sam Waterston and a very young Julie Louis-Dreyfus. The film manages to contain all of these great actors and provides them with a juicy story that they are able to get their teeth into. As I mentioned in my opening though, for me the film felt a little long which is odd as it’s only 106 minutes. Despite the interesting and conflicting arcs of the various characters, I was beginning to get a little bored by the end.

The film was nominated for seven Oscar’s, winning three. Allen won for Best Screenplay which isn’t a surprise as the dialogue is witty, existential, emotional and tight. The story itself is, as I’ve mentioned, multi layered but personally not to my taste. The other two awards went to actors Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest. These I find a little more surprising. They were both fine performances but neither struck me as particularly special. That being said, Michael Caine was very good. Wiest though didn’t really stand out above the other female leads for me and if anything I thought that Barbara Hershey did a better job. I’ve said this before in my review of Boxcar Bertha but she has a quality to her that you can’t help but be infatuated by. She isn’t the prettiest woman but has something about her that makes you smile. She was a good choice for Michael Caine’s muse. On the acting front I also thought that Max von Sydow was very good, although I can’t help but see a little of myself in his arrogant, grumpy and cynical character. Woody Allen plays the Woody Allen character and is on top form here too.

One of the stars of the film is New York City itself. Regular readers will know how much I love the city and the film perfectly captures it at a critical moment in its history, before the cleanup of the 90s and the mass influx of chains around the same time. The characters walk the grimy streets, passing small, independent shops and graffiti strewn walls and this provides a gorgeous backdrop. Watching films like Hannah and Her Sisters makes me wish I could have seen the city during the 1970s and 80s so I too could experience its beauty, dirt and decay. One of the characters in the film is an architect who takes us Carrie Fisher and Dianne Wiest on a tour of the city to see some of its most interesting architecture. I enjoyed this sequence a lot and it also ended in a great scene where both women try to outmanoeuvre the other for the man’s affections. Another highlight of the film is the soundtrack. Allen is a huge fan of Jazz and this movie features a great Jazz-Swing soundtrack which accompanies the middle class problems of the New Yorkers it follows.

Overall I enjoyed the sights and sounds of Hannah and Her Sisters and was only put off by the plot, which strangely I also enjoyed in parts.       


1 comment:

  1. Good review Tom. One of Wooody's better attempts during the 80's as he is able to get all of these stories together in perfect fashion, while also being able to focus on some real-life situations people go through like adultery and being broke. It's also a perfect acting showcase for Michael Caine as I think he totally deserved that Oscar he got.