#229: Deconstructing Harry (1997)

With Woody Allen’s 43rd(!) feature film To Rome With Love soon hitting the cinema screens, it’s always great to go back and see some of his former glories and forgettable duds. Producing, writing, directing, and often starring in one film every year, the prolific comedian’s real-life is deeply rooted in his creative output, and the brutal satire Deconstructing Harry is no exception.

Allen stars as Harry Block, a neurotic creative going through a phase of writer’s block ahead of picking up a prestigious award from his former university. Before he gets there, Block spends time with his psychiatrist trying to pinpoint the reason for his creative. Together they release that, as with all Woody Allen films, the blame is on Harry’s borderline psychotic fixation with women. Telling all, he reflects on ex-wives and girlfriends, the love, the lies, and all the characters’  in his book who stem from Block’s real world. Truth be told, Allen Block is a nasty piece of work.

From thereon, the film gets a little confusing. A master writer, just about every person in Harry’s world has a fictitious doppelgänger in his writing. Recalling the revue style of his early days, these are all explored in fantasy sequences and surreal sketches, culminating in a tawdry “Welcome to Hell” skit.

What is most instantly surprising about this inflated nineties flop is the crass language. Woody is angry, dropping f, and even c-bombs like there’s no tomorrow. It is initially jarring, but Woody’s potty mouth is a rather welcome shift from the Allen we’ve seen in previous films. That is until he puckers up for an unrelenting, deplorable kiss with Elisabeth Shue (that’s her up above, the poor lady).

Always able to pull in a crowd, Deconstructing Harry has a producers’ wet dream of a cast list, with the likes of Robin Williams and Julia Louis-Dreyfus putting in measly performances as the people that make Harry’s life so self-loathing. Evidently making appearances just for the Woody Allen credit, they pitch in on a plot which is as convoluted and multifarious as the film’s title suggest. At the crux, Harry, and ostensibly  Allen, is wrestling with the blurred boundary between real life and fiction, and how the two can be detriment to each other.

For all it’s bawdy humour, Deconstructing Harry is surprisingly mournful. A story of an isolated man who pushes away any compassion thrown at him. Failing to convince anyone to come by their own accord, Harry captures his son Hilly (Eric Llloyd), a distant dying friend Richard (the hilariously understated Bob Balaban) and on-the-clock prostitute Cookie (Hazelle Goodman) to accompany him to the alma mater honouring. A career defining event, Allen suggests that the shoulder-rubbing highs of artistic life are also the most lonely.

Even more selfish than Isaac Davis in the timeless Manhattan, Harry is a little too loathsome to spend ninety minutes with. Deconstructing Harry sees Woody as an angry middle-aged man who really doesn’t give a fuck what you think. A nasty, perplexing and philosophical comedy which sees Allen exercise his demons. Considering he married his adopted daughter, it’s no surprise Allen’s got some shit going on.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.

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