Hannah and Her Sisters
Brilliant but mature comic-drama about an imperfect family.
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Hannah and Her Sisters
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Hannah and Her Sisters is a grown-up movie best for mature teens and an ideal film to watch as a family. In essence, it's a seriocomic gift, with profound concepts about life, lightened by delicious laughs that emerge from the characters and their relationships rather than situations or pratfalls. Woody Allen has created an extended family of rich characters, all of whom are complex "works in progress." Sex and sexual longing are key elements of some story lines, as is past and present drug and alcohol abuse. Themes include dishonesty, infidelity, codependency, and self-realization (or the lack of it). Sexual scenes are limited to passionate kissing and embracing, plus a few moments in bed post-intercourse. A number of characters have substance-abuse issues (a woman snorts cocaine on camera), and drinking and smoking frequently occur. Language includes mild swearing ("hell, " "ass," "Jesus Christ") and sexual references (masturbation, "whorehouse," "banging her sister," "knock off little Greek boys").
The reason to watch...Max von Sydow!
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What's the Story?
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS takes place over two years, bookended by the family's Thanksgiving dinners in New York City in the mid-1980s. Hannah (Mia Farrow) is the seemingly wise sister, the holder-together of all the other challenging members of the family, the peacemaker, the caretaker, and the wise one. Holly (Dianne Wiest) is the most creative sister, the most agitated, growing older alone, dealing with drug issues, floundering in search of herself, a man, and a career. Lee (Barbara Hershey) is the most sensual of the three, a recovering alcoholic, in a relationship with an older artist, unsure of what direction to take with her life. Surrounding this core threesome are: lovesick Elliot (Michael Caine), Hannah's husband; hypochondriac Michael (Woody Allen), Hannah's ex-husband; the sisters' parents; and assorted friends and lovers who fill the screen with warmth, humor, and their own individualized dysfunctions. Over the course of two years, characters fall in and out of love, forge new careers and leave old ones behind, and connect and disconnect -- battling with themselves and with each other. The stakes are always high: marriages, integrity, self-awareness, and the willingness to live and accept life as it comes.
Is It Any Good?
Starting with an artful, ingenious, and, at times, very funny script, writer-director Woody Allen tells a story about family that will never get old; it's too true and too authentic. There are enough memorable characters here, all fully developed and beautifully performed (both Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest won Supporting Actor/Actress Academy Awards), to fill a dozen movies. The rich humor comes from the complexity of character, the foibles accompanying real people trying to survive in a challenging world, and the eccentricities of creativity. It's one of Woody Allen's most accomplished triumphs. He has proven here to be an undeniable genius at creating characters at their most vulnerable, their most eccentric, and their most human and being as funny as he is profound. Because of the mature themes (adultery, substance abuse, struggling to find one's place in the world), Hannah and Her Sisters is recommended for mature teens.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about and define different genres of movie humor (for example, spoof, sitcom, character comedy, topical, satire). Which kind of comedy provides the most laughs in Hannah and Her Sisters? List some incidents that bolster your answer.
When a movie is as compelling many years after it was made as when it was released, the movie is said to have "held up" over time. Do you think this film "holds up" over time? Why?
Woody Allen chose not to have Hannah find out about Elliot's affair with her sister, Lee. Is it ever easy to decide between honesty and hurtfulness? Do you agree that this was a case in which honesty would simply have been too hurtful? How would this movie have changed if Allen had made a different choice?
- In theaters: March 14, 1986
- On DVD or streaming: November 6, 2001
- Cast: Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest
- Director: Woody Allen
- Studio: Orion
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Holidays
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- Awards: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: January 16, 2023
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