Hannah and her sisters are the offspring of a New York show business couple (Lloyd Noland and Maureen O'Sullivan) who even in old age are busy trying to upstage each other. Mom has a drinking problem, and dad is always snapping at her. As their youngest daughter observes: "They liked the idea of having children, but they were never very interested in raising them."
Perhaps that is why everyone seems to depend on Hannah (Mia Farrow), the eldest daughter, a competent and self-sufficient woman who gave up a successful acting career to raise a family in an apartment on Central Park West. Her strength of character and ability to handle any problem send her husband Elliot (Michael Caine), a financial adviser, into the arms of a sexy, insecure, and guilt-ridden sister Lee (Barbara Hershey), whose affair with Frederick (Max Von Sydow), a sour middle-aged painter, has run its course.
Holly (Dianne West), the third sister, is a compulsive, self hating dilettante who runs through men and careers with equal speed. Unable to find work as an actress, she borrows money to start a catering service with her friend April (Carrie Fisher). The loan, of course, comes from the ever reliable Hannah.
Mickey (Woody Allen), a television producer, is Hannah's former husband. He's a hypochondriac whose latest fantasy is that a brain tumor will cut his life short. Faced with the prospect of imminent death, he quits his job and begins exploring the religious consolations of Catholicism and Buddhism. Although Mickey describes his first date with Holly as having ben about as much fun as the Nuremberg Trials, he eventually links up with her again when she turns to writing as her next avocation.
As a portrait of the tensions and tangles between sisters, this film can't hold a candle to Woody Allen's earlier Interiors. The only point scored here is that being the Rock of Gibraltar has its drawbacks if your siblings happen to be insecure screw-ups.
Hannah and Her Sisters does have some very funny moments. As we would expect of a Woody Allen comedy, it is filled with tart observations and clever asides on the warps of contemporary culture. While watching a group of punk rockers, Mickey tells Holly that he is afraid "they're going to take hostages." On the drawbacks of reincarnation, he comments: "I'd have to sit through the Ice Capades again." Some of the lines, however, sound a bit familiar. On religious fundamentalism in America, Mickey says, "If Jesus came back and saw what was going on in his name, he would never stop throwing up" a comment reminiscent of Holden Caufield's thoughts at the Radio City Christmas show in J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.
At one point, Elliot whines, "I can't even fathom my own heart." This seems to be the dilemma facing all these New York City lovers and strangers. Like rickety bridges, their commitments in relationships and satisfactions at work collapse under the slightest pressure. Some brood over their problems; others just move on to the next self-deception. By the end of the movie, all the clever sophistications and urbanity of the characters Elliot woos Lee with an e e cummings poem, and Holly think she's in heaven while sipping wine at the opera with a handsome architect wears very thin. And Mickey's final profession of faith an affirmation of life derived from watching the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup seems rather lame, a Kyrie eleison without God.