Xtwelve’s review published on Letterboxd:
Man, I wish you could see my face right now. I truly don’t believe it. The cynic, the cinephile, Woody Allen himself just made a feel-good picture about the value of life! Please tell me this film actually exists, and I didn’t fever dream it, cause’ I mean that tonal shift alone is a shocker that made me check Wikipedia to see if he recently remarried around the time this was written or something, but then, on top of that I was not prepared for the idea that this could, and frankly is, in all ways heavier on the poignance and heart that something even to the caliber of It’s a Wonderful Life for life-affirming works of cinema.
And as much as I am smiling, it should be known all the above mentioned is stated pretty dutifully, if not cynically myself as Hannah and Her Sisters still gets annoying off plenty of its flaws as this bittersweet sketch dramedy with so many moving parts and differing perspectives that, based on quantity and Woody’s undeniable tenacity, if nothing else, some stuff is spectacular, but some of it just reeks of both desperation and a sort of philosophical and thematic obligation to shoehorn in nihilism and societal weariness where it really doesn’t fit, the only logical rationale, beyond, and here is the annoying part I was talking about, mostly because, excuse or not, you kind of can’t deny it fits way too well, that life itself is a messy collage of ideas that we’re never really meant to make sense of and so the film mirrors that by also being a mess, other than maybe that other reason for its failure being a terrible need for conformism, to make this a through and through Allen film, and an Allen film requires one to be cynical, so cynical you will get, really in spite of whether or not it fits.
I mean, the idea this is a mixed bag flick is easy to understand the second I say it, but, regardless I desperately want to talk about some stuff in detail, so you will have to bear with me, really impervious to the fact most of everything from here on is only to illustrate how the good stuff is great and the shitty, shitty. Anyhow, take one scene, what I earnestly consider to be the best scene in the film as the perfect example of how Hannah and Her Sisters is a great, when executed correctly, and almost step down in maturity for the sake of telling its mature story in a way that feels more real, more meant even, (second only to the one with Woody in the movie theater re-evaluating his whole life in the face of The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, but, and this doesn’t dampen the power, only the argument, that may have nothing more to it than the fact it at the same time confirmed, yet utterly lifted from me all the personal emotional torture and anxiety my life has similarly looked like for the past half a year or so, so while for that I am forever grateful I will choose to analyze a different point the film) between Woody and Dianne Wiest in the record store, one that is, from all stances, technical filmmaking, acting, writing, dialogue (dialogue, for context that’s in a vein so distinctly Baumbachian with a hint of a Sorkin-esque dizzying overlap, besides Woody’s trademark style of course. All while, let’s be honest Noah Baumbach can only have wet dreams about crafting something so awkward and yet charming and sort of this emotional bear hug that comes with it, and its character’s acceptance of some underlying, unidentified yet distinctive wallfloweratic quality. Basically what I’m trying, and pretty desperately at that to say is that Woody Allen captured perfectly in this moment, with just the writing alone the giddy euphoria of a real-life meet-cute and reflected it up on the screen for all to see, hear, feel, and, though maybe this is because I have always seen myself in the paranoia and neuroticism of the typical Allen ethos, but also to similarly feel as though someone finally gets them, frankly, if you want the kind of corny truth I feel as though I fell in love with a ditzy, messy, yet loving girl today, and the girl I fell in love with was Hannah and Her Sisters itself).
But, where was I, it also succeeds based on set-ups, payoffs, subtleties, charisma, anti-chemistry, oh, and did I mention most of it consists of a beautifully photographed long take, everything works in such a, and this word quite belittles the effectiveness of such a moment had in reviving the third act, I don’t know how else to put it except for charming (forgoing the fact that my love for Allen’s Mickey and the easy to come by detestability of Wiest’s sensitive egotism, not that both of them aren’t egotists, made their coming together, as a couple a little too much like, weird comparison, I know, when Amy March steals away the perfect match for literally every other character in Little Women but herself in that of Laurie, still mad about that by-the-way) way that, in only a near 4 minutes, it genuinely became my favorite scene ever committed to the big screen sort of before it was even over.
But how do we follow that up, or I guess what precedes that, it’s about a straight hour about how much of a sex animal and sly seducer Michael Caine is. Maybe if it was Woody that was the focus of the film and taking on such a role I could believe it (though, maybe just because literally every scene with him in it is so much better than anything around it and you can see the positive effect him in the leading role could have, the lone fact this movie squeezed five stars out of me after starting with an agonizing 11 and a half Woody Allen-less minutes is probably the best thing I can say about it. Though, just another observation, and no doubt one that will have to be fleshed out when I see his more recent solely directorial and not acting work, but it is almost as if the man writes better for other people than he does himself, take chiefly Max von Sydow’s Frederick, a role so distinctly Sydow in both principle and execution from a script perspective it hurts, but one drastically, and there is a similar pattern among the rest of the cast, underperformed by the man himself and alas that section gets dutifully added to the list of boring scenes in the film sans-Allen rather than subtracted), even if I’m willing to admit that comes mainly as a prejudice of having just accepted Allen as a clandestine carnal wizard (sorry, my bad, I'll try not to mention Allen in any sex-related contexts again after this point) from how pitifully (in a manner all too similar to someone trying to prove their own boldly stated penis size, like hell, Allen easily could have been the butt of that Wallace Shawn joke in Manhattan and yet), he tries to make you believe such an outrageous claim is true for both the entirety Manhattan and Annie Hall.
But, interjections aside, the point remains that even Woody Allen is a more believable person to pull of a passionate affair than “can’t even get through a single sentence without tripping over himself and looking as though he wants to crawl ten feet deep in the ground” Micheal Cane, even setting aside the fact Cane (who, hot take, even outside this context is not a good actor, sorry) like everyone else messes up a lot of what I thought could have been some borderline genius deliveries and general moments within Allen’s screenplay to the point you just want Woody and only Woody to take on this character just for the sake of doing it justice.
Because, well, on paper the tautest drama and meat of Hannah and Her Sisters is all in the affair subplot, it really is the part I wanted to like the most because of the scenarios it builds and the way in which it actually embraces the idea of charting a new writing direction for Allen in ways other sections, mainly everything Woody himself is actually involved in as an actor are resistant to (like come on, his whole hypochondriac shtick could have easily just been a part of Annie Hall and I barely would have noticed whatsoever, like besides literally saving this movie’s ass with totally separate ideas, I will be the first to admit it really doesn’t fit at all), yet the thing remains, in its already given state, if you want me to empathize with and devote myself to two characters each betraying the trust of two other characters I like a lot more than them, you both have to keep me interested and stuff has to make sense, neither of which happens for most of this movie (though I will concede compared to other, even shorter those in physical length, Woody Allen films this is an utter breeze, mostly because it is third act heavy on those emotional goods, rather than following trend and for some reason saving up all its experimental ideas and platitudes of “changing the way stories are told” for only the last half-baked thirty minutes).
I mean, just the look of everything comprising drab, blankness, I simply don’t like brown, no fault of the movie’s, but when coupled with both Barbara Hershey and Michael Caine farting out their dialogue and farting all over each other, put it simply, you already struck out with my investment, and, I think I’ve said enough to this point as it is already, but, nothing makes sense either. Michael Caine seducing Lee, a woman whose own domestic problems is so blandly fleshed out itself, that really, well, it’s obvious the only reason she wants it is because she’s the hot, young, female lead of a Woody Allen film (yep, that sounds weird but there really, and I’ve tried, is no other way to phrase this point), and, hell even if you want to call their actual affair logically justified like, well regardless that’s dull drama and a dull subplot nonetheless.
So, all that to say, parts of the film are nothing and parts of it are everything, I mean, I’ve said a lot of corny shit today but I think the corniest will have to be quoting the mock-intellectualism of Carrie Fisher’s April, though in that context referring to buildings, it is true of here as well, this is a film that breathes. But, contrasting to such an analogy it isn’t all out to impress, and that’s certainly a film the Woody catalog needed, hell, when you stand Hannah and Her Sisters next to the rest of the man’s work, maybe take out some brilliant editing and music for tone and similarly jazzed up pacing (though, quite uptempo here compared to anything else I’ve seen from him), maybe the surrealism and more tactile unconventionalism too, and in comparison, even something as lighthearted as Annie Hall looks like the ramblings on the side of Freud or Nietzsche that Allen’s Mickey takes the time here to rightly call pessimistic ego fodder and a feigning at the philosophical mind.
And yeah, I guess die-hards speaking down from their high, and kind of ironic intellectual horses may not like the accessibility of something like this, I know I didn’t at first; it felt like it went against all the ravishing on contemporary culture the man cultivated all the rest of his career to represent. But no, now that I think about it, man, it’s perfect. An extension, almost a spinoff of this Allen universe, but one with more colorful and yet a little less educated characters, and hell, you make a film about second chances so emotional I nearly bawled my eyes out at multiple times, well then who am I to not give a second chance to this new flavor approach to storytelling?
Man, will it ever be a treat to show this to my mom and her sisters, who could easily pass as the inspiration for this film on appearance alone, and that doesn’t even get into the how of their personal similarities either, and on that thought, come to think of it this may not actually be such a good idea, because oh yeah, “Hi mother, I want to show you a movie, indeed, just you know, there’s this sister in it that cheats with her other sister’s husband and gets away with it, that reminded me a lot of you actually”, I’m sure that one will go over just great. At the end of the day though, truly that’s what cinema of this caliber (a sort of charmer despite its glaring flaws, that for lack of a nicer way of putting it, can’t really get by on its merits alone) is meant to be in a way, shared, reveled in, enjoyed, swallowed right down to the soul, and I won’t lie to you, for such things as that it really doesn’t get better than this. They don’t make like this anymore, and why would I want them to? This is a film for a time, a place, a feeling, and that feeling is pure, giddy, red-faced elation. I’m walking on air...