Constructed in short chapters, with a rainbow spectrum of characters taking turns as narrators, Hannah and Her Sisters paints a picture of contemporary New York life, exposing sadness and joy and the ritual of self-discovery in every brushstroke.
The plot spreads over three Thanksgivings at the spacious Central Park West apartment of Hannah (Farrow), with her and sisters Lee (Hershey) and Holly (Wiest) as the centrepieces.
The children of Bohemian show-biz parents who spar endlessly and endure their children’s crises superficially, the girls are rivals, friends, and catalysts, and in two years of their lives, we encounter a smorgasbord of survival techniques that could not happen anywhere else but a planet unto itself like the island of Manhattan.
Hannah is an actress who would give it up in a second to have babies. She’s divorced from Mickey (Woody Allen), has had twins by artificial insemination from his ex-writing partner and is now married to Elliot (Michael Caine in his Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor role), a successful financial adviser with keen business acumen but not much substance.
Elliot loves Hannah’s cool, controlled (and slightly flaky) domestic grip on reality, but he lusts after her beautiful, erotic, unfocused sister, Lee, who lives with a brooding, depressed, cynical painter (Von Sydow) who is always threatening to kill himself.
But the queen of neurosis is Holly – A cocaine sniffing, chain-smoking, anxiety-ridden dilettante who is into ESP, punk rock, and drugs and has failed at everything.
Since Holly can’t get an acting job, she opens the Stanislavski Catering Service with her pushy, competitive girlfriend April (Fisher). Dianne Wiest won the 1986 Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Holly.
Hannah holds everything together with a maternal perfection that infuriates everyone. Her self-assurance is unnerving, especially to her ex-husband Mickey, who is an ulcer-ridden hypochondriac who wafts through the streets of New York between Saturday Night Live and various hospital testing labs (he is convinced he’s dying).
Mickey also tries everything – He even converts from Judaism to Catholicism. He is actually so depressed that he would like to kill himself . . . but his parents would be so devastated that he “would have to kill them first to spare them the humiliation”.
Hannah is a valentine or love letter from Woody Allen to the whole neurotic world – A painfully accurate and richly comic masterpiece, which is probably Woody’s most complex yet most accessible film. No wonder critics treated it like the second coming.
Hannah’s apartment in the film was really Mia Farrow’s own on Central Park West, NY, while some of the children in her Mother Goose nursery are her own children (natural, adopted, and surrogate).
Her mother in the film, a once-beautiful actress still charged with vitality and charm, is played by Maureen O’Sullivan – Mia’s real-life mother.
Evan, Hannah’s father
Norma, Hannah’s mother
Max von Sydow
Ira B. Wheeler