Alex Robertson, Avram Tetewsky, Betsey Brown, Charlie Chaspooley Robinson, drama, Hannah Ha Ha, Hannah Lee Thompson, Healy Knight, Jordan Tetewsky, Joshua Pikovsky, LGBTQ, Massachusetts, movies, Peter Cole, reviews, Roger Mancusi
February 16, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Joshua Pikovsky and Jordan Tetewsky
Culture Representation: Taking place in Sharon, Massachusetts, the dramatic film “Hannah Ha Ha” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A woman in her mid-20s, who has low-paying, part-time jobs and lives with her father, is constantly pressured by her visiting older brother to make career choices that can give her a higher income and health insurance benefits.
Culture Audience: “Hannah Ha Ha” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in realistic “slice of life” dramas from the perspective of working-class young people.
“Hannah Ha Ha” is a well-acted drama that shows how a working-class young woman’s view of her life is very different from how her ambitious older brother sees it. The low-key style of this film won’t appeal to the masses, but it works for this movie. The movie invites viewers to think about their personal definitions of “success” and “contentment,” and how those different opinions might affect relationships.
Written, directed, and edited by Joshua Pikovsky and Jordan Tetewsky, “Hannah Ha Ha” won the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival grand jury prize for best narrative feature. It’s a no-frills movie filmed in the style of a cinéma vérité documentary. Don’t expect much of a structured plot, because the movie is meant to be a snapshot of a few weeks in the life of a quiet semi-loner named Hannah (played by Hannah Lee Thompson), who turns 26 years old during the course of the story.
Hannah doesn’t really have any big plans for her life. The movie’s tone continually asks, “And what’s so wrong about that?” She lives with her mild-mannered and ailing father Avram Tetewsky (played by Jordan Tetewsky’s real-life father) on a farm-like property in Sharon, Massachusetts, where the movie was filmed on location. (Sharon is about 17 miles southwest of Boston.) Hannah’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the movie. It’s implied that Hannah has lived in this small town her entire life.
Hannah makes money from low-paying, part-time jobs, most of which aren’t meant to be long-term. She gives guitar lessons. She works in customer service at retail stores, or as a food preparer at fast-food restuarants. And she occassionally takes odd jobs, such as cleaning or doing other manual labor for neighbors and acquaintances. Hannah can’t afford a car, so she gets around by riding a bike or taking a bus.
Hannah is fairly content with her simple life, although she’s aware that if she had more ambition, she would probably be making more money in a stable job with growth potential. Hannah will be constantly reminded of her underemployment when her older brother Paul (played by Roger Mancusi) arrives to visit from “the city” (presumably Boston), where he has an unnamed corporate job. Paul is very opinionated, pretentious and materialistic. And throughout his visit, he constantly tells Hannah to get a sensible full-time job that can give her health insurance and other benefits.
Over time, it’s obvious that Paul’s nagging isn’t because he cares about how Hannah wants to live her life. It’s because he doesn’t want to have a sister that he feels ashamed of, because Paul thinks Hannah is wasting her life. Instead of making Hannah feel good about her upcoming 26th birthday, Paul tries to make Hannah feel like a loser who hasn’t accomplished much and is wasting her potential. Hannah has never wanted to go to college and still doesn’t want to go to college. As she explains to someone in the movie about why she chose not to get a college education: “It didn’t make sense to go into debt for a fucking lit[erature] degree.”
To give you an idea of how money-oriented Paul’s priorities are, he spends more time asking Hannah about what types of jobs she’s applied for than asking about the health of their father. (Avram stays out of the siblings’ conflicts and tension.) At one point, Hannah tells Paul that their father is going through a clinical trial (the movie never says what Avram’s health issue is), but Paul barely asks Avram how he is doing before Paul goes right back to interrogating Hannah about her job prospects.
Paul’s equally pompous live-in girlfriend Caitie (played by Betsey Brown) has accompanied Paul for this visit. When she spends time with the family, Caitie (who’s a bit of a complainer) seems more concerned about talking about herself and anything that makes her look like an upwardly mobile “hipster.” Caitie and Paul love to name drop and have a very condescending attitude about the type of lives that Hannah and Avram are leading. However, Caitie and Paul never seem to be satisfied with how their lives are going. This superficial couple seems to have an unquenchable desire to have more money and get more things, in order to feel superior to people who have less.
During a family meal at Avram’s place, Caitie and Paul mention a trendy technology guru named Simon (played by Alex Robertson), who’s in in his 20s and has gotten some media attention for being a start-up business whiz. Paul and Caitie say that they can arrange for Hannah to get a job interview with Simon. Hannah reluctantly agreees. During the interview, Simon asks Hannah what is her Myers-Briggs personality type, and she has no idea what he’s talking about. Needless to say, this awkward interview does not go well.
“Hannah Ha Ha” has other vignettes showing Hannah in her day-to-day life. She has a small circle of friends, who celebrate her 26th birthday with her at a bonfire party. It’s briefly mentioned that Hannah has an ex-girlfriend or ex-love interest named Christina (played by Healy Knight), but Hannah’s love life or her sexuality is not the focus of this movie. In fact, Hannah doesn’t show an interest in dating anyone during this period of her life. Because of Paul’s prompting, she’s mostly focused on finding a job that pays more than the retail job she wants to quit.
Hannah starts asking people she knows if they have any job openings where they work. She asks her friend Robbie, also known as Dawson Rob (played by Charlie Chaspooley Robinson), who works at the Dedham Community Theatre, but there are no openings there. Hannah’s iconoclastic uncle Jay (played by Peter Cole), who is Avram’s younger brother, is a radio DJ who plays classic rock. Even though Hannah doesn’t care for that type of music, she asks Jay if the radio station has any openings. The answer is also a no.
When Paul once again asks her how her job search is going, Hannah says she’s been applying mostly at fast-food places and retail jobs. “There’s no shame in that,” Paul says, even though his tone of voice indicates that he feels the opposite of what he’s saying. Hannah can sense his snobbery.
And so, when Paul asks Hannah if she has been following up on these job applications, Hannah replies sarcastically that she’s been following up with gifts such as “artisanal gift baskets, wine and cheese spreads.” Paul is so full of himself, he doesn’t seem to understand how much Hannah is mocking him with this answer.
As an example of how materialistic Paul is, he mentions to Hannah that one way that he judges his co-workers is by seeing what cars they drive, so he can have an idea of how well-off they are financially. Hannah doesn’t say anything to this comment, but her disgust and discomfort are written all over her face and body language. “Hannah Ha Ha” is an interesting portrait of how two siblings who grew up in the same household could turn out to be very different from each other.
Paul is the type of person who grew up in a small town and probably couldn’t wait to move out so that he could pursue his goal of making as much money as possible. At one point, he scolds Hannah for her small-town life in this farming community, as an “ignorance is bliss, kumbaya, hippie-dippie lifestyle.” Paul also says insults farming as a profession because he says that “old farmers have back problems.”
Fortunately, “Hannah Ha Ha” isn’t just about insufferable Paul and his tense relationship with Hannah. There are several scenes that show Hannah spending time by herself. She might not talk much, and she might not have a fancy job, but she’s got an interior life that means something to her, no matter what other people might say or think about her. Whether she’s riding her bike, going on a cigarette break at work, or playing her acoustic guitar by herself in her room, Hannah seems to be very aware of her small-town existence but not troubled by it.
Hannah also shows she has compassion. One night, when Hannah is very tired, her lonely father asks her to join him in watching a “Twilight Zone” marathon on TV. At first, she says no. But when Hannah sees the look of disappointment on Avram’s face, she changes her mind. Hannah ends up falling asleep during the marathon, and her father isn’t bothered by it at all. Her simple act of kindness is an indication that she has the emotional intelligence to know that his request wasn’t about her staying up to watch the marathon, but to let him know that she cares enough about him to spend time with him.
It’s something that Paul can’t fathom because he thinks the life that Hannah has with their father is boring and unproductive. At one point, Paul invites Hannah to live with him and Caitie in the city. “It’s better than spending tme with Dad,” he comments. You can easily guess what Hannah thinks about this offer to live with her overly judgmental and shallow brother in a big city.
“Hannah Ha Ha” is not the type of drama that has epic profound moments, tearjerking scenes or shocking revelations. Thanks to the authentic-looking acting from the cast members and the straightforward writing and directing, “Hannah Ha Ha” will give viewers a glimpse into the life of a small-town young woman who isn’t the movie cliché of being anxious to get out of the small town to a pursue a dream in a bigger city. “Hannah Ha Ha” has a simple statement that success and contentment can mean different things to different people—and trying to get people to change when they don’t want to change can be a lesson in failure and frustration.
Cinedigm released “Hannah Ha Ha” in select U.S. cinemas on February 10, 2023. Fandor will premiere the movie on March 21, 2023.