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Thanksgiving Pick: Hannah and Her Sisters

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Written and Directed by Woody Allen (1986) Starring: Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Barbara Hershey, Michael Caine, Woody Allen, Carrie Fisher, Max von Sydow

For the holiday movie selection for the fine Turkey-bird season, here’s a classic from Woody Allen (which I had no idea was framed around Thanksgiving): Hannah and Her Sisters.

[Interspersed with inter titles that remind me of an episode of Frasier,?] Hannah and Her Sisters follows a very dramatic family across several years, beginning with the big Thanksgiving dinner.  An interior monologue from Elliot (Caine) tells us that he’s in love with his wife, Hannah’s (Farrow), sister Lee (Hershey).  However, he’s never had the courage to tell her, and instead follows her around and produces awkward conversations.  In the kitchen, Holly (Wiest) is asking for money from Hannah again, hoping to hold up a catering service while pursuing an acting career.

The driving plot comes from Hannah and her sisters’ relationships and careers, another story follows Mickey (Allen), Hannah’s ex-husband and hypochondriac, who gives up his job in television after a possible cancer scare.  He explores different religions and remembers his past with Hannah’s family, from turning to artificial insemination after finding out he’s infertile to a disastrous date with Holly after the divorce.

Mickey’s place in the story isn’t apparent until the very end, but his vignettes and flashbacks allow for a bit of dramedy-relief from the sisters’ stories.  Elliot eventually tells Lee he loves her and they begin an affair, often switching between the guilt at what they’re doing to Hannah as much as the satisfaction they both receive by being with each other.  Holly and her friend April (Fisher) meet David (Sam Waterston), a rich architect, at one of their catering jobs, which perpetuates their acting-rivalry with a love triangle.  Hannah, meanwhile, seems almost out of step in the story: She is a successful actress who takes care of her children, her parents, and her sisters.  The drama that emanates from her life seems to be everything she doesn’t know.

The story is well-balanced between the various plots and each sister has a neurotic moment where they question their place in the family or in the shared-family business of dramatic arts.  Where Hannah is talented, Holly is not; where Holly is focused, Lee is aimless.  By the time the final Thanksgiving scene rolls around, everyone’s situations have changed, whether it’s apparent or not.  A very taut, well-defined drama with an amazing cast.

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