A group of wealthy, intellectual Manhattanites fall in and out of love with other as they discuss their neuroses and insecurities.
So goes the synopsis for a good many Woody Allen films. The trouble is, once you’ve seen Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979), all of the others in this realm tend to pale in significance. Hannah And Her Sisters may be endlessly watchable, but it fits into the same bracket as the light-hearted half of Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989) and the very similar-in-tone Husbands And Wives (1992). They’re enjoyable films, relatively inoffensive, yet feel like they’re cut from the same cloth. You could probably intercut scenes from all three films and not tell the difference.
One small flaw of Hannah And Her Sisters comes from Allen’s intent on showing quick, naturalist dialogue between the principle characters. While I like the approach, there are a couple of moments where it doesn’t really work, when a character starts responding to a line of dialogue from another character before they’ve finished saying it. These moments ultimately turn into actors churning through their lines, with little thought given to how a conversation actually works.
Allen’s at his most interesting when he’s not doing the bittersweet New York romantic comedies. The brilliant mock-documentary Zelig (1983) never fails to provoke a wry smile for all of its madcap ideas, and the seemingly throwaway Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) is one of his consistently funniest films. Recent clangers like Match Point (2005) show that not everything he touches turns to gold, yet mainstream hits like the time-travelling Midnight In Paris (2011) prove that there’s life in the old dog yet, particularly in commercially appealing genre films. I’m still holding out that he’ll direct a Star Wars film one day.
I’m currently reading John Baxter’s Woody Allen: A Biography, a book I bought – and started – back in the late ‘90s, but abandoned for some reason. It’s always stuck in my craw that I didn’t finish it at the time, but it’s good to finally get back to it, despite it now only covering half of his career.
Hit: I’ve Heard That Song Before – Harry James
Hidden Gem: Back To The Apple – The Count Basie Orchestra