There is a rhythm to holiday dinners and family gatherings. They boast a plethora of emotions…some you see, and others are felt internally. We do not choose our family members like our friends. These people are thrust upon us, maintaining powers that complement and weaknesses that bring out the worst within. It is often a hit-and-miss meal that we dread yet cannot attend. Battle zones of things better left unsaid interspersed among moments of joy, laughter, remembering the “old days,” feelings of anxiety, and not being “good enough.” Holiday family dinners come with such expectations that this year will be different and better than the last. Oh, what fools we all are.
I remember hosting huge family turkey dinners that left me exhausted and overwhelmed at what topics were brought up and begging for discussions. I can visualize the platters of food being passed around. Everyone oohing and ahhing over how wonderful and delicious it all was. I can see my children’s happy faces as they sat beside their Bubbe and Zeda, deep in conversions or later playing rousing hands of Uno. The wine flowed free, and wagging tongues were everywhere considering my life, career, and dating choices. It was spectacular in scope and sighing when it was over. I never thought of not doing the dinners. It was expected and necessary. A tradition. Now those days and meals are very quiet and small. No matter what, I remember them with love, and seconds of yearning to turn on the clock back when everyone was in one room together…for good or bad…it was “us.”
Very few movies can showcase the “sanctity” of Thanksgiving dinners. There is one brilliant exception…Woody Allen’s HANNAH AND HER SISTERS. It felt authentic, probably because it was filmed in Mia Farrow’s apartment. She portrayed Hannah as a strong, confident, kind woman with two messy sisters and parents showing their age. Woody wrote the screenplay for Mia in tribute to how she was the robust one among her sisters. This film is a compliment to strong women and the bonds of sisterhood. Woody was rewarded with an Oscar for his talented screenplay, and the words are just as meaningful and poignant today as they were in 1986.
The success of HANNAH AND HER SISTERS was due to the perfect casting of this tight ensemble of excellent actors. Diane Wiest played the youngest sister, Holly, a mixed-up, drug-taking, wild woman. She won the Oscar for her honest creation, Best Supporting Actress. Barbara Hershey gave life to the middle, angst-ridden sister, Lee. Their dynamics were explosive, demanding, guilt-ridden, and passive/aggressive. One of my favorite scenes was when the girls sat at a round, restaurant table and we were taken on a circular camera ride from each perspective and line. The timing was split-second and impeccable.
What can I say about Michael Cane as the lusting Elliot, Hannah’s floundering husband? He wore his big glasses in the film because he believed he was “Woody.” His heartache performance also was rewarded with an Oscar for Best Actor. Watching him interact and stumble during his love affair was like witnessing a master class filled with minute nuances of brilliance.
The film was special because it included Mia’s real-life mother, Maureen O’Sullivan as her mother. It was the first time they ever were in a movie together. Mia’s four children also were her kids on camera. Talk about a family affair! Each character’s stream-of-consciousness monologues gave us a true picture of who they were and how they saw themselves. Clever and inventive writing and acting. Kudos.
The cinematography was fabulous. Sightseeing New York’s finest architecture through touring favorite buildings was ingenious. The city looked fabulous. And the musical score throughout the entire film was upbeat and comes from Woody’s love of jazzy sax melodies. (Made me want to get up and dance.)
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS is a marvel. It is highly entertaining and includes well-developed characters, and an outrageous, sarcastic, funny plot. It is one of Woody’s best…an impeccable gift for this time of year. It’s a true holiday classic. Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy every moment together.
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS is available to stream on AMAZON PRIME.