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USA 1986
Directed by
Woody Allen
106 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Hannah And Her Sisters

Allen's at-the-time most commercially successful film was a watershed in his career, establishing the trademark style to be seen many, many times since, with a large ensemble cast of well-known actors playing out a semi-autobiographical Manhattan chamber piece with an overarching moral. It was enthused over critically on release when its ambitiousness impressed however its achievements have been diluted considerably by Allen’s subsequent smaller-scale re-iterations.

Mia Farrow plays Hannah who is married to Elliot (Michael Caine) who is in love with Hannah’s sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey), who is in an unsatisfying relationship with an anti-social painter (Max Von Sydow). Hannah other sister Holly (Dianne Weist) is a coke-snorting wannabe actress whose life is a mess. Adding to the mix is Allen’s Mickey, a  television director who fears he is going to die and Farrow’s real life mother Maureen Sullivan as the girls' booze-loving former thespian mother,

Allen's screenplay which won an Oscar, divides the narrative into a series of episodes each with an opening quotation from one of the characters. Particularly in its early stages, reflecting Allen’s status as a high-culture-avid autodidact, with its references to La Traviata, e.e. cummings and Mozart, the film is a little on the too glib side, even though that is hardly incompatible with middle-brow approval. Equally, however, it displays Allen's skill in rolling out a neatly crafted, multi-stranded slice-of-life story with its tidy moral message. Caine and Weist both won supporting Oscars, justified in the latter’s case but difficult to see why for Caine who is particularly clumsy in the physical scenes with Farrow and Hershey.

The film ends on a, for-Allen, unusually reassuring, even somewhat icky note perhaps a reflection of his then blooming relationship with Farrow, one that we now know was not to last.

FYI: There is a typically self-revealing line in the film referring to child molestation of which Allen's Mickey observes: "Everyone's doing it". Soon-Yi Previn who would be the co-respondent in the notorious Farrow-Allen bust-up appears uncredited as aThanksgiving Guest). Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes her screen debut sporting, like Weist, some classic-mid-'80s fashion choices.




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