Woody Allen's last couple of movies lacked bite and true comic spirit, and I
had the feeling his work was going to continue along the lighter side, as in
"Everyone Says I Love You." Now with the shockingly disturbing and provocative
"Deconstructing Harry," he has created one of his most lacerating, uneven yet
truthful comedy-dramas ever.
Woody Allen plays a successful author named Harry Block who's currently facing
writer's block on his latest novel. While he's creatively challenged, Harry
loves to sleep with any woman he meets, has affairs with girlfriends and wives,
and finds a kinky pleasure in sleeping with prostitutes. At one point, he asks
one particular prostitute (Hazelle Goodman) to tie him up, beat him, and "give
him a blow job." Harry also has a knack for pills and whiskey and little else -
all there is his art that feeds his soul, or what he has left of it.
Harry's life is remarkably similar to his novel. The characters he creates are
exaggerated figments of people he was once close to (As a counterpoint to his
life, Woody dramatizes the real-life characters in his book by having different
actors). His Jewish sister and brother-in-law (played by Caroline Aaron and
Eric Bogosian) are depicted as hateful denizens in his book yet they are not
that different in reality. Harry also had an affair with his ex-wife's sister
(Judy Davis) who threatens to kill him after threatening to commit suicide.
They are hilariously depicted in his book as lovers (played by Richard Benjamin
and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who have sex in front of his half-blind grandmother!
"Deconstructing Harry" is an unusual experiment for Woody Allen
because he actually dissects himself and his life through his art and through
his relationships. One can argue that he has done that with every film he's
made, but what is most unusual is how rough Woody is on himself - for the first
time in his career, he curses, and talks about sex in graphic detail. He also
curses at his ex-wives (Kirstie Alley, Amy Irving) who are always yelling at
him for his numerous affairs and for how they are depicted in his novel! The
only sweet relationship he has is with a lovely fan (Elisabeth Shue) who's
about to marry Harry's best friend (Billy Crystal) who may be the Devil
Woody also has a grand time including scenes from Harry's former novels. There
is one where different kinds of Jewish stereotypes are depicted in relation to
Harry's family, such as the perfectly cast Demi Moore as a psychotherapist who
"sees true beauty and meaning" in Judaism. Then there are the Jewish parties
where the guests are dressed as Darth Vader and the waiters as stormtroopers!
How about his uncle who may killed his first wife and eaten her! And then
there's Woody's greatest comic invention since "Zelig" called "The Actor," a
character (Robin Williams) who is always out of focus!
"Deconstructing Harry" juggles a lot of characters and situations and throws
them up in the air with great abandon. Woody Allen's visual style is more
complex since there are less long takes and lots of jump cuts to emphasize
Harry's own dissection of his life and the others around him. The film doesn't
always succeed nor is he as deconstructive of Harry as he should be, but his
theme of how an artist's work is more significant than his life is superbly
realized. "Deconstructing Harry" is not as consistently hilarious as his
earlier films, and maybe it isn't meant to be. It is, however, as daring,
courageous, darkly comic and outrageous a self-portrait as I've seen in a long
Copyright © 1997 Jerry Saravia