Sunday, July 8, 2012
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS
(February 1986, U.S.)
At the absolute minimum, Woody Allen's film career can perhaps be called consistently predictable. If you were to take a close look at his filmography, you'd probably agree that many of the films he made which seemed to get released nearly one after the other, were cinematic fillers (depending on your personal tastes) that merely took up screen space until he scored a major critical and audience hit. I'm talking about titles like A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S COMEDY (1982), THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) and RADIO DAYS (1987). Then you get films like HANNAH AND HER SISTERS that truly mark Allen's territory as a filmmaker and an actor. It's a film that falls under his most popular and credible category of neurotic, insecure characters whose entire world rests on the island of Manhattan.
This film tells the intertwined stories of an extended family over a two year period that begins and ends with a family Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Hannah (played by Mia Farrow) and her husband, Elliot (played by Michael Caine). Hannah serves as the stalwart hub of the narrative; her own story as a successful wife, mother and actress; a woman who has become so dependable to others that her own needs in life (if any) have become completely hidden to those around her; a woman who can give but can't receive very well. Her own world and who she is seems almost completely dependent on what her two sisters Lee (played by Barbara Hershey) and Holly (played by Dianne Wiest) have going on in their lives. It's Lee's adulterous affair with Elliot that may or may not ultimately destroy Hannah. It's Holly's financial dependence on Hannah and her (Holly's) inability to get her life together that also take its toll on Hannah's own life.
Woody Allen's character as Hannah's ex-husband Mickey is exactly the kind of insecure, neurotic loose cannon you'd expect from him. For this role, we can also add hypochondria to the list of character flaws. An unexplained hearing loss in one ear leads Mickey into a frenzy in which he's not only traumatized by the fact that he's going to die someday, but also by the fact that the answers of life, death and God seem completely out of his reach. One of the funniest moments in the film is when he attempts to convert to Catholicism and comes home one day with a grocery bag filled with what he perceives as the textbook shopping list of items a good Catholic requires; a crucifix, a Bible, a framed picture of Jesus Christ, a large loaf of plain white Wonder bread and a large jar of Hellmann's regular mayonaise. I suppose you have to be Jewish to truly find that funny. Who knows. And how many men do you know whose entire outlook on life can change for the better with a simple viewing of the Marx Brothers in DUCK SOUP?
Like many others stories of family and circumstance, time and change are key elements. At the start of the first Thanksgiving, we have a first act of characters that are more or less stable and content with their existences. By the second act, most everyone is experiencing their own form of personal chaos, making an irony of a holdiay where we're supposed to give thanks for our blessings. By the third Thanksgiving at the end, all is well again, people are happy and we find that Mickey's life has changed so much to the extent of marrying Hannah's sister Holly, who is also pregnant.
In my opinion, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS is not only one of Woody Allen's best films but also one of his best New York films.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mickey: "Mom, come out!"
Mother: "Of course there's a God, you idiot! You don't believe in God?"
Mickey: "But if there's a God, then wh...why is there so much evil in the world? Just on a simplistic level. Why...why were there Nazis?"
Mother: "Tell him, Max!"
Father: "How the hell do I know why there were Nazis? I don't know how the can opener works!"