1997 - R - 95 Mins.
|Director: Woody Allen|
|Producer: Jean Doumanian|
|Written By: Woody Allen|
|Starring: Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Elizabeth Shue, Kirstie Alley, Bob Balaban, Hazelle Goodman, Eric Lloyd, Billy Crystal, Richard Benjamin, Demi Moore, Julie Louis-Dreyfus, Stanley Tucci, Robin Williams |
|Review by: James O'Ehley
Writer Harry Block (geddit?) is, well, suffering from writer’s block.
Harry’s personal life isn’t much better. Block is an acerbic wit who tends to alienate those around him – wives, friends, family. When someone accuses him that he has no values. “With you it’s all nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm, and orgasm,” the character says. To which he replies: “Hey, in France I could run for office with that slogan, and win!”
Being a chronic womanizer also doesn’t exactly make him an endearing figure. That he turns his own misadventures and those of the people around him into literature also doesn’t help in the popularity stakes. People don’t usually like their private lives being turned into books for public consumption.
Make no mistake about this: while Block may be fast on the one-liners, he isn’t a particularly likeable character. When his ex-wives rage against him, you know they have a point. Block’s only redeeming point is that, well, he’s played by Woody Allen and he makes us laugh. (My favorite line from the movie is on the virtues of science as opposed to religion: “Between air conditioning and the Pope, I chose air conditioning.”)
The movie tries to make the point that the suffering Block spreads around is acceptable because it is all turned into art. Art redeems a lot it seems, and artists have a license to inflict a lot of damage too it seems.
“Deconstructing Harry” is probably Woody Allen’s last film project of a personal nature since his 1992 movie, “Husbands & Wives”.
Don’t get me wrong: Allen’s movies since the whole Mia Farrow scandal in the early 1990s bore some of his directorial trade marks and concerns (jazz, comedy, intellectualism, etc.) but they were definitely lightweight entertainment. Especially when compared to efforts such as “Stardust Memories”, “Crimes & Misdemeanors” and the like.
“Deconstructing Harry” also proved to be a departure from Allen’s usual oeuvre in that it has to be his most foul-mouthed effort to date. Harry Block and his various ex-wives, ex-lovers and friends are all potty mouths. This doesn’t mean that the dialogue has dumbed down: no, Allen’s one-liners are as cerebral and clever as always.
The point is that Allen’s character and the characters surrounding him aren’t all that pleasant really. Long-time Allen fans will probably find this movie as off-putting as his bitter “Stardust Memories” (a movie often criticized for mocking and deriding his fan base). My wife, while she may not be the world’s biggest Allen fan (that’d probably be me) for starters hate this movie. It is a bitter movie that at times leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Woody Allen has always been an acquired taste and this movie more so.
You either love him or you hate him. (Personally I think his brand of intellectualism is out of place in a culture that celebrates reality TV shows, Jerry Springer and other assorted signs of the decadence of Western civilization and coming apocalypse).
If you’re a fan (like me) and have been luke warm about his bland output of the past few years, then revisiting “Deconstructing Harry” is a good idea. “Deconstructing Harry” is an unredemptive personal film which makes no attempt at mass audience acceptance - something Allen snobs will appreciate.
If you’re unfamiliar with Allen’s movies, then give “Deconstructing Harry” a skip and check out “Annie Hall” or “Hannah and Her Sisters” instead. His hilariously funny “Love & Death” is also a safe bet.
(By the way, I’d thought I’d add the Webster’s Dictionary’s definition of deconstruction as in deconstructing: "a philosophical and critical movement, starting in the 1960s and esp. applied to the study of literature, that questions all traditional assumptions about the ability of language to represent reality and emphasizes that a text has no stable reference or identification because words essentially only refer to other words and therefore a reader must approach a text by eliminating any metaphysical or ethnocentric assumptions through an active role of defining meaning, sometimes by a reliance on new word construction, etymology, puns, and other word play." Thought you might like to know . . .)