Dianne Wiest as Holly in Hannah and Her Sisters
Best Supporting Actress at the 59th Annual Oscars (1986)
“I think I can fake my way through a song.”
Hannah (Mia Farrow) is an NYC actress who has her shit together. Her sisters (and everyone else in her life) decidedly do not. Lee (Barbara Hershey) is carrying on an affair with Hannah’s husband (Michael Caine) and Holly (Dianne Wiest) is trying to do seventeen things with her life and doing all of them poorly. Isn’t family fun?
I’m not sure if Holly is actually Hannah’s baby sister, but spiritually, she’s the baby sister of the family. To put it gently, Holly is a hot mess. She’s a wannabe actress, but never manages to nail an audition, so she bounces between careers. She’s always borrowing money from Hannah to fund some ridiculous misadventure that she thinks will finally launch her to the bigtime whether starting her own catering company (despite having no service in the food industry) or asking for just one year (!!) to do a little writing. She’s also recovering from a cocaine problem, so nobody really wants to push too hard on her poorly structured plans, lest she relapse.
All of this might seem to suggest that Holly is some fun party girl, and while she’s got that side to her personality (she’s definitely the least pretentious member of her very artsy family), she’s really quite neurotic. You see, Holly is desperately insecure, in seemingly all aspects of her life. She’s not a career success, she can’t find a good man, and she clearly compares herself to Hannah, who has both a husband and consistently impressive acting roles. She’s very sensitive to any hint of rejection, and does not take criticism well. If I was to really embrace the psychoanalytic spirit of the movie, I’d say that Holly often sets herself up to fail, trying out for a Broadway play (she doesn’t sing), or double dating with her confident friend April (played by Carrie Fisher, girl, don’t try to compete with that). She’s an endlessly interesting person.
Just a few weeks ago, I said that I was excited to see Dianne Wiest’s first Supporting Actress performance and I was not disappointed. I love that her Holly is so different from her Helen in Bullets Over Broadway: It’s clear that she has a real range in her ability to play different types of characters. She even uses a fully different voice in this film: nasally and quite soft. I love how Wiest brings Holly’s neuroticism to life: she never stops moving and carries herself with a twitchy energy.
It’s also important that Wiest imparts a genuine likeability to Holly, a character who might otherwise frustrate the audience. Holly is wrapped up in herself and her schemes are harebrained, but Wiest gets across Holly’s vulnerability and sweetness. It means that we’re rooting for Holly to pull it together and we’re happy about her successes, even as we can also imagine ourselves in Hannah’s shoes.
I have been very vocal about my Woody Allen hatred, and my dismay at how many of his films scored Best Supporting Actress wins, but dammit, I’ve been Stockholm Syndromed: I actually liked this movie!? Let’s be clear: there are still some major issues. There’s a storyline involving a character played by Woody Allen, and it’s his usual unfunny, nonstop talking garbage. For some reason, the movie also includes laughable voiceovers where characters literally speak their thoughts aloud, which is fully unnecessary. But the bulk of the story is fascinating and engaging! It’s a family drama that feels novelistic: I love the structure, and the way that it’s broken into “chapters,” and the complex, genuinely interesting characters. Give me the version with “Mickey” edited out, and I’d pretty whole-heartedly recommend.
Was the Oscar deserved?
Yes, Wiest delivers excellence, once again.