Hannah and Her Sisters

movie still

Director: Woody Allen
Screenwriter: Woody Allen
Starring: Michael Caine, Woody Allen, Barbara Hershey, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Dianne Wiest
Release details: Orion Pictures, USA 1986, 102mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Romantic comedy-drama
Rating: 10 out of 10

There's an accepted wisdom that says that you either like Woody Allen and his films or you don't. I'd like to break that wisdom and say that I like Woody Allen films where he's only a minor character, because he's clearly a gifted director and writer (at times), but I personally find him an annoyingly whiny little runt. This is, of course, only my personal opinion and I totally respect the right of anyone else to think he's a cinema god in everything he does, including acting. You are entitled to that opinion. You're just wrong.

That said, this is one of those films where Allen, the actor, is only in the periphery and his other skills come to the fore. It's a beautifully scripted look at love and marriage through the three daughters of one family (Farrow, Wiest and Hershey) and Allen brings the best out of every member of the cast, as evidenced by the twin Best Supporting Oscars for Caine and Wiest.

If, like me, you would generally avoid Woody Allen films because listening to the ratchet-jawed meanderings of rich, neurotic, insignificant white people for 100 minutes sounds like the living definition of hell on toast, then this may be the perfect opportunity to test your assumptions. Hannah and Her Sisters is probably the warmest and most accessible (read: least annoying) of Woody's films to date. Okay, so not much happens: characters fall in and out of love and talk about it all with their nearest and dearest, but what else did you expect from Woody? Car chases and nuclear explosions?

What elevates it above all the usual fare is that there's not a moment of screen time wasted and the balance between characters is almost perfect. The cast - including the many talented supporting actors on view - blends like a real family would and are really allowed to shine in the ensemble scenes, the family gatherings where all the gossip, secrets and lies are revealed, just as they are in real life.

Personally, I think Barbara Hershey, as the flighty object of the very married Michael Caine's affection, deserved more credit. Maybe she missed out on a nomination because she got caught in the fine line between Best Supporting and Best Actress, or maybe she's just hampered by having the least showy female part in the film. But, given the miserable calibre of Academy Award winners in the 1980s (Driving Miss Daisy? Out of Africa? Are you kidding?), I reckon Hershey deserved at least a nomination for her work here.

External Reviews

Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters," the best movie he has ever made, is organized like an episodic novel, with acute little self-contained vignettes adding up to the big picture... Roger Ebert

A complex and sensitive philosophical drama, it modernised the family saga... BBC Films

The ending of Hannah and Her Sisters, which takes us full circle to a Thanksgiving dinner that is both like and unlike the one that starts the picture, is one of the most quietly joyous moments in recent movies....


Hannah and her Sisters poster

Poster image © MGM/UA

As one of the most thought-provoking film-makers, I did expect more Woody Allen sites to be out there, but I guess he's not pretty enough for thousands of illiterate teenage girls to fill geocities with scanned images of him. What there is, however, is this geocities page.

There's a Mia Farrow fan site, heavy on pictures.

Dianne Wiest has a few "teenage girl on geocities sites" (no doubt helped by her role in NBC's Law and Order), but they're not really worth linking to

By virtue of starring in three films by some guy named Lucas, there's no shortage of Carrie Fisher websites. Try the

Barbara Hershey is probably best known for starring opposite Bette Midler in Beaches, but she also starred in a tremendous little film called The Stunt Man which often pops up on Sky TV. Watch it if you get the chance. Or, check out these pictures of some of her other roles.