Today! Because what if there is no God and you only go around once and that’s it. Well, don’t you wanna be part of the experience?
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Directed by Woody Allen (x5)
Starring Mia Farrow (x4), Michael Caine (x3), Barbara Hershey, Woody Allen (x4), Diane Wiest (x2), Max Von Sydow (x2), Carrie Fisher (x3), Maureen O’Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, Daniel Stern (x2), Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lewis Black, Julie Kavner (x2), J.T. Walsh (x5), John Turturro (x2), Richard Jenkins (x3), Fred Melamed (x2), Joanna Gleason, Sam Waterston (x2), Tony Roberts (x2)
With one of the best casts ever assembled, Hannah and Her Sisters in a lot of ways is the perfect Woody Allen movie. He made better ones, and he made funnier ones, but this is the rare hybrid between family drama and neurotic comedy, neatly packaged together as one film. Really, there are two plots running alongside each other, knitted together by featuring the extended family of sisters Hannah (Farrow), Holly (Wiest), and Lee (Hershey). Being a Woody Allen film, the B plot is entirely him – as Hannah’s writer ex-husband Mickey, going through a mid-life crisis where he may be dying of a brain tumor (this is the funny half!). The A plot features Hannah’s current husband – Michael Caine’s Elliot – in his escalating disenchantment with their marriage and his lust for sister-in-law Lee. Even this breakdown isn’t entirely fair, as they split time on these stories pretty evenly, plus a good amount of time spent on Wiest’s hilarious Holly, but the Elliot/Lee/Hannah portion does occupy with the emotional center of things.
As time went on, more and more Allen films felt very much the same. Hell, most of his early films do too, just not in the same way as the later ones. Those stepping away from his typical storytelling tend to stand out as classics – your Annie Halls and Manhattans – which really don’t bear much structural resemblance to anything else he made. The fantasies all share a tone, even if the elements change – Purple Rose of Cairo, Midnight in Paris, etc. But in the family drama/comedy category, nothing is quite the sprawling ensemble and clever merging of dramatic and comedic stories like Hannah. Crimes and Misdemeanors might be closest, but that has far fewer jokes, and doesn’t much pretend to be a comedy, despite Woody also appearing there.
And while the Mickey story is decidedly the lesser of the two, it does feature one of my favorite sequences in all of film – his story progresses through this possible terminal diagnosis, trying to adopt a religion, stepping away from his job, and becoming generally more and more despondent, until he hits bottom, tries to kill himself, fails, and ends up wandering the streets of New York. Mickey narrates this section through a flashback, so it’s not quite as bleak as it reads, but his salvation – if you will – comes as he ends up in a random movie theater, where he reevaluates the benefits of living while watching Duck Soup. I’m not saying the Marx Brothers are continually saving lives with their satirical, anarchic antics, but this sequence spoke to me to the point that I tend to forget a lot of the plot details of the drama half, but have Mickey’s realization that life isn’t so bad while “To War” plays out on screen forever burned in the memory.
After Annie Hall, this film was Woody’s most recognized by the Oscars – nominated for seven, including Best Picture and Director, it won three, for Caine, Wiest, and Screenplay – Allen’s second win in the category and sixth nomination. The movie won Best Comedy or Musical at the Globes, and got eight BAFTA nominations, winning Director and Screenplay, and getting acting nods for Allen, Caine, Farrow, and Hershey, but not Wiest, who won the Oscar. It’s a deep film! I mean, look at that cast!
But even with the giant talent pool involved, I would like to give MVPs out to Maureen O’Sullivan and Lloyd Nolan, as the sisters’ actor parents – popping up at holidays playing the piano and singing, but also very argumentative and bitter in other points of the film. In many ways, they best represent a summation of all the goings on – funny and rancorous and a little bawdy.
Woody becomes the first Five-Timer director (#320 Match Point, #203 Purple Rose of Cairo, #304 Take the Money and Run, #349 Broadway Danny Rose), while also going into the acting wing with the Fours (plus #270 The Front, minus Purple Rose and Match Point), alongside Farrow – who obviously would not be happy about that – following her appearances in #352 Be Kind Rewind, Purple Rose, and Danny Rose. Loads of Twos, three Threes (Caine – #188 Muppet Christmas Carol, #220 Without a Clue; Fisher – #259 Soapdish, #208 Jay and Silent Bob; Jenkins – #292 Cabin in the Woods, #286 Me Myself and Irene) and one Five-Timer actor – J.T. Walsh (#317 Blue Chips, #341 Good Morning Vietnam, #214 Nixon, #207 A Few Good Men)!
Coming tomorrow! You can’t take your eyes off it; I’ve seen you. You’re not eating. You barely sleep. It’s taken a hold of you –