BU Film School

Friday, September 23, 2005

FT 540 Reading: Hannah and Her Sisters

Screenplay info
Written by: Woody Allen
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0091167

Synopsis
Thanksgiving dinner at Hannah's apartment. Elliot, who's married to Hannah, watches Lee, his sister-in-law. In voiceover, Elliot reveals that he dreams about Lee. Hannah interrupts his reverie, holding out some hors d'oeuvres for him to try (which were made by Holly, the third sister, and her friend April).

Hannah and Holly prepare things in the kitchen. Holly and April are aspiring actresses. Holly gets the idea to do some catering until jobs come through. She asks Hannah for money (something we feel has happened before). Hannah wants to be helpful, but is hesitant. She asks if it has to do with cocaine; Holly swears that she's been clean for a year.

In Hannah's living room, Evan and Norma are performing (he plays piano, they both sing) for an appreciative audience. Lee comes into the kitchen and tells Hannah that Norma wants an antihistamine. They remark that at least Norma's not drinking. Hannah tells Lee to ask Elliot. Lee leaves. Holly remarks that Frederick didn't come with Lee.

Setting table for Thanksgiving dinner. Hannah invited an Ichabod Crane lookalike to meet Holly. Holly teases Hannah. Hannah accidentally sticks Holly with a toothpick.

Elliot, with Lee in tow, finds the antihistamines. She talks about a nude picture Frederick recently did of her. Elliot blushes. Lee says she's going to start taking classes -- not sure in what. Elliot says he could bring some of his clients to Frederick.

Lee, back downstairs, tells Hannah that she bumped into Hannah's ex, Mickey, a hypochrondriac.

Dinner is served. They toast Hannah's success in A Doll's House. Hannah says that now she's got that out of her system, she can go back to the most important thing, her family.

Lee is on her way home. Interior monologue -- buzz from Elliot's flirting. Frederick's loft. She says he should have come to dinner, but he says he doesn't want to be around people. "Isn't it enough that I can love you?" He says he has a lot left to teach her. Frederick also dismisses notion of Elliot's clients, says that Elliot is after Lee.

Mickey at studio. It's utter chaos -- dealing with Standards & Practices (who want to censor a show six minutes away from performance), angry writer, actor on Quaaludes. Mickey, in interior monologue, complains about how the show's killing him, in stark contrast to his ex-partner's success.

Mickey stops by Hannah's, gives birthday gifts to his sons. Warm, fuzzy scene.

Mickey goes to the doctor and complains about a hearing loss. (We get the feeling he's a regular visitor.) The doctor detects a substantial loss in Mickey's high-decibel range, and arranges for tests at the hospital. Mickey panics there and at his office (brain tumor!). His assistant Gail tries to reassure him, with no luck. "No, I was happy, but I just didn't realize I was happy."

Holly and April are catering a party, and it's going very well. David walks into the kitchen and introduces himself -- he's an architect. Listens to Aida on radio (sensitive guy). He drives them to one of his buildings, which April praises in pseudo-architectural blather. Series of shots as they tour various architectural highlights (and lowlights) of the city. Holly and April spar about who should be dropped off first. Holly loses. As she sits alone in the back, Holly kvetches to herself. "I hate April. She's pushy."

Elliot spots Lee leaving her building, then dashes to a spot so that he can happen to be there as she's passing by. He says he's looking for a bookstore. She takes him to one. He asks her out to coffee, but she doesn't have time. He buys her a book of poems by e.e. cummings, saying that a certain poem reminded him of her. He makes a point of mentioning the page it's on (read this!). Lee, at Frederick's, reads the poem, lingering on the line "nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands."

Mickey, terrified, undergoes a series of tests at the hospital. The doctor doesn't like a spot on his X-ray, and tells him to come in for a CAT scan. In voice-over, Mickey tries to reassure himself, then (back at his apartment) panics. He tries to relax and tell himself that all of his previous doctor's visits ended with good news, then remembers one that didn't.

Flashback to doctor telling Mickey that he can't have children, a blow to him and Hannah. She raises the issue of artificial insemination, which he's not completely comfortable with. They have an extremely awkward conversation with Norman (then still Mickey's writing/producing partner) and his wife, Carol. Flashback ends. Mickey muses that that was the start of his and Hannah's drifting apart. "Now instead of man and wife we're just good friends. Boy, love is really unpredictable."

Holly and David are at his box at the opera.

Elliot brings one of his clients, Dusty the rock star, to Frederick's. Frederick's rude to the client, but they go downstairs to look at some work. Meanwhile, Lee puts on a Bach, which turns out to be one of Elliot's favorites. He asks if she's read the poem. In voiceover, Elliot says it's a delicate situation -- he has to move carefully. However, he grabs and kisses her, declaring his love. She's shocked. Just then, Frederick and Dusty come back upstairs, with the artist saying there's no way he can deal with Dusty. Elliot sees Dusty off in the cab, then calls. He gets Frederick, and hangs up. Lee finds him. Things are extremely awkward. Elliot says that he and Hannah are in the last stages. She admits that she has certain feelings for him, but can't say anything more, which he takes as an answer in and of itself.

Hannah visits Evan and Norma at their apartment. Norma has been drinking. She and Evan snipe at each other. Hannah: "Both of them just full of promise and hopes that never materialized." Norma says that Hannah has all the luck, but Holly takes after her mother.

Mickey has a CAT scan. In the doctor's office, he learns that he has an inoperable brain tumor. Then that's shown to be fantasy; in reality, the doctor tells him that his tests were all fine. Mickey is all happy leaving the hospital, then stops himself. Back at his office, Gail confronts him -- why quitting? Mickey says that even though he won't die now, he will eventually (in despair, he'd bought a rifle), and that takes all the pleasure out of life. "I gotta get some answers."

Lee comes to Elliot's hotel room. They kiss and make love. Elliot says that he wants to do things for Lee -- Hannah doesn't need him as much. Lee goes back to Frederick's. He's gloomy, which irks her. She says she wants out. When pressed, she admits to having an affair. Frederick: "You are, you are my only connection to the world."

Elliot and Hannah are in their bedroom. His voice-over -- he's so cozy there in bed with Hannah. He feels extremely guilty about being unfaithful, and vows to nip the affair in the bud. The phone rings, and Elliot grabs it. It's Lee, who says that she feels very close to him.

Mickey walks and thinks. Flashback to his disastrous dates with Holly (set up by Hannah after they divorced). The first one was at a rock club, which deafened him; the second was at a jazz club, which bored her. They snipe, him about her use of drugs, her about his being uninteresting. In the present, Mickey says that was that ... which was too bad, since he'd always had a little crush on her.

Elliot and Lee dance in their hotel room.

Elliot, Hannah, and their kids (her twins with Mickey and two adopted ones) are at the dinner table. When the kids go off, she asks him why he's so listless. He says he doesn't think having a baby is a good idea. She presses him, but he can't bring himself to tell her about Lee.

Hannah helps Holly pick out clothes for her audition. They talk about David, who has a schizophrenic wife. Holly says that her audition is for a musical, leading Hannah to note that singing isn't really Holly's strong suit. Holly's confidence is hurt. Hannah tries to caution Holly to be realistic about her chances.

Holly sings at audition. April sings. Afterwards, April says that David is taking her to the opera. There's some tension between them, even though Holly says it's OK.

Mickey goes to see Father Flynn about converting to Catholicism. When the father asks why, Mickey says that he needs evidence of God. The proposed conversion makes his parents very unhappy. When Mickey tells his father about his fears, the father pooh-poohs it. "Who thinks about such nonsense? Now I'm alive. When I'm dead, I'll be dead." Shots of church, choir, Mickey getting books, Christ on cross, Mickey piling up various things (books, mayo, white bread).

Lee and Hannah go to a restaurant. Lee says she doesn't miss Frederick. Hannah says that Elliot has been distant and difficult. Holly arrives, saying she ran into April at an audition. April and David are now an item, which means the end of their catering company. But Holly has a new idea -- writing. She asks Hannah for another loan. Instead of agreeing, Hannah tells Holly to be realistic, rather than jumping right into something. When Holly upbraids her, Lee defends Hannah. Finally Hannah gives up: "Write! Let's just not talk about it anymore."

Elliot talks to analyst. He can't take action. He says Lee's adrift too, taking random classes. As he talks in voiceover, Lee is shown on campus. One of her professors, Doug, calls out to her, and they walk and talk.

Mickey talks to a Hare Krishna about reincarnation. "... does that mean my soul would pass to another human being, or would I come back as a moose or an aardvark or something?" The Hare Krishna gives him literature in lieu of an answer.

Lee asks herself, why shouldn't she see Doug? Elliot's not free to act.

Thanksgiving at Hannah's house. Lee is cool to Elliot. Holly talks to Hannah in the kitchen, but Hannah ignores her. Finally, Hannah says what's wrong: Holly's screenplay is based on her and Elliot. Hannah's angry both about her portrayal (too self-sufficient) and about the amount of private details. Holly says that Lee had told her things, and Hannah wonders how Lee knew.

Lee tells Elliot that their affair's over -- she's met someone else, and she wasn't going to wait forever. Their confrontation's interrupted by table-setting preparations.

Hannah confronts Elliot -- has he talked to either sister about their personal life? He never seems to want to talk to her about them. Elliot: "I need someone I can matter to."

Later that night, Hannah and Elliot are in their bedroom. Hannah: "It's so pitch-black tonight. I feel lost." Elliot: "You're not lost." They kiss.

Mickey runs into Holly, and they chat. She asks for his opinion on her new screenplay, and reads it to him at his apartment. He's stunned (it's based on David and April, and ends with him being attacked by the schizophrenic wife), and says he thinks it's great. They have coffee and a stroll. She asks him about his crisis, and how he came out of it.

Flashback: Mickey is rigging the rifle so he can kill himself. When he shoots, he is sweating so much the rifle slips, and the bullet shatters a mirror instead. The noise shocks him and disturbs the neighbors. Wanting to get away (and in his rush, setting off the rifle again), he goes out and wanders the streets. Eventually he ends up in a movie theater, which is playing Duck Soup. The wacky comedy cheers him up. "What the hell, it's [life] not all a drag." He starts enjoying himself. Holly apologizes for their horrible dates. He asks her out to dinner.

One year later, Thanksgiving again at Holly's house. Hannah is to play Desdemona on public TV. Elliot, in voiceover, notes that marriage seems to agree with Lee (who's there with Doug). Elliot hugs Hannah, they watch the guests. Mickey comes up behind Holly, saying not to worry, it's only her husband. "The heart is a very, very resilient little muscle." He asks how to top his little screenplay (marry one sister, then end up marrying the other one). She says she's pregnant. They kiss.

My notes
-- good use of voiceovers -- characters' internal monologues
-- relationships the main focus -- sisters to each other, sisters to significant others (theirs or someone else's)
-- overlapping dialogue. Realistic, people stammer.
-- lots of stuff from offscreen -- people's reactions to dialogue
-- scene cards with quote, themee
-- use of music, especially jazz
-- self-deprecating humor. Humor of character.

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