What do you say when you happen on a movie this elating, this full to the brim with humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance? The usual fever of adjectives—terrific, titanic, transcendent—sounds puny. A plot synopsis—three sisters search for the right man in New York—sounds trite. Even the fact that Woody Allen wrote and directed it and plays a leading role is not much help. This is Allen's most ardent, ambitious and brilliant film, uncharacteristically crowded with character and incident. The spilling-over effect, letting emotions run amok, releases a generosity in the filmmaker that rushes to the rescue when his comic darts draw blood. The result yields some of Allen's most personal observations yet on the feelings for parents, siblings, children, bedmates and buddies we categorize as love. Allen, a hypochondriac TV producer, is the ex-husband of Hannah, played by a radiant Mia Farrow. She, with a propensity to gain children in ways that range from the usual to adoption and artificial insemination, is an actress now married to a financial adviser expertly done by Michael Caine. Caine has found himself in lust with Farrow's sister Lee, played by the meltingly lovely Barbara Hershey. Hershey is living with a neurotic artist, lampooned by that master of Bergmanesque angst, Max Von Sydow. In the neurosis department, though, Von Sydow is a piker compared to Farrow's other sister, Holly, played by Dianne Wiest in a bonfire of a performance. Wiest, perpetually wincing from the rejection she suffers as actress, singer, writer and lover, lets her sisters have it in a restaurant scene that cuts to the nerve as well as the funnybone. Watching Wiest and Allen, two maladjusted urbanites nursing each other's ego bruises, proves hilarious and surprisingly poignant. Their emotions are no less real for being susceptible to time. The melancholy attached to love's impermanence suffuses the film. At a climactic Thanksgiving family dinner, Hannah's parents—beautifully acted by Maureen O'Sullivan (Mia's real-life mom) and the late Lloyd Nolan—gather around the piano to sing Rodgers and Hart songs about love found and lost. Allen's camera roams the room picking up the same stories, hauntingly etched on the faces of his characters. In the music world an enduring ballad like those sung here is called a standard. You leave Hannah and Her Sisters with the intoxicating impression that you've been in on the birth of the film equivalent. (PG-13)

  • Contributors:
  • Peter Travers,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Scot Haller.