Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) (PG-13)

I wasn't having a great day when I saw "Hannah and Her Sisters" which is probably why it hit me so hard. You have to keep in mind that while people (myself included) try to look at a film objectively, there is a percentage and perhaps it's the lion's share that is just personal response to the movie. For instance, my own morbidity was kicking in and my personal life was just a mess...what better way to spend the day than with a Woody Allen movie?
Allen is an extremely talented director and with "Hannah and Her Sisters" he makes perhaps his most cheerful piece. It's a messed up movie that deals with inter-family relationships and the lies we tell to one another. It's full of truth but even more full of deceit. As always, Allen is able to congregate the most extraordinary cast and to list all of the players would seem a bit crass. Unusual for a movie starring himself, Allen is not afraid to share the spotlight or even give it away to others.
The movie begins at Thanksgiving when a family has gathered together to celebrate. There are odd personalities here, typical with the average functioning family ready to fall apart at the seams—the alcoholic mother, the drug-addicted sister, the blissfully unaware sisters, the cheating husband...etc.
The movie's first lines acknowledge that Elliot (Michael Caine in an Oscar winning role) is in love with Lee (Barbara Hershey) who is the sister of his wife, Hannah (Mia Farrow). Already we are shown the darker side of family life, but what is unexpected is the mental process of each of the characters. We hear the voice-over narration of them speaking to themselves so we get to know how each one of them functions. Elliot thinks too much and too little. He takes things to their logical conclusion, but sometimes his more crass side wins over and he blunders into awkward situations without realizing it.
As Elliot's longing for his wife's sister continues, Hannah's ex husband Mickey (Woody Allen) is battling with his own mortality.
A hypochondriac, Mickey goes to the doctor frequently to consult, seeing if he has caught anything life-threatening lately. He returns to the doctor, inquiring about the loss of hearing in one ear. Mickey loves to complain about his symptoms but he doesn't love it when things don't turn out great. The doctor seems a little concerned and sets up another test at the hospital which launches Mickey into a tailspin.
Lee is living with an older painter, Frederick (Max von Sydow) who is the most depressing and singularly unattractive character in the movie. He's an intellectual snob who enjoys making vast commentary on the degradation on society. Clearly, he thinks of himself as a prophet, yet he is too arrogant to share the truth with anyone but Lee.
Told somewhat in flashbacks with a jazzy score to accompany, "Hannah and Her Sisters" explores the possibilities within one family. It's almost cultish the way that the same characters keep popping back up in different scenarios and it most definitely tip-toes the line between outrageous fiction and insightful truth.
Holly (Diane Wiest) is the third sister and the one whose life really is falling apart. She had some substance abuse problems and then there's the whole career thing. She battles with her frenemy April (Carrie Fisher) over fairly much everything—men, jobs, happiness.
But though there is all this drama happening, "Hannah and Her Sisters" is a very optimistic movie that seems to be saying—it's okay. It could just have been the mood I was in, but I didn't buy that sentiment. The movie plays out like a gigantic shrug of the shoulders. Hey, life's complicated, let's deal with it. It's a comfortable thought, but it doesn't challenge the viewer like the rest of the movie does. Its resolution is weak, though undeniably charming.
It's a class act and would bring home three Oscars, including one for Diane Wiest. Needless to say, the acting is sensation.
It's a very good movie.

Score: ★★★½

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