Woody Allen roared back at his detractors with Deconstructing Harry, a bitterly funny treatise about the creative process. Known to mine his often tumultuous personal life for his movies, the embattled writer-director-star... more » didn't bother to make his alter ego likable in this movie: Harry Block (Allen) pops pills, frequents prostitutes, and cheats on the women in his life, then writes about their foibles in thinly disguised fiction. No wonder they're all furious with him. As Harry journeys to his alma mater with a hooker, ill pal, and kidnapped son, a series of flashbacks unravel, juxtaposing Harry's relationships with their "slightly exaggerated" fictional counterparts. There are amusing cameos throughout, including a humorous turn by Demi Moore as a fictitious ex-wife who "became Jewish with a vengeance," and Billy Crystal as the devil who found Hollywood too nasty for his liking. The humor is dark and caustic, but well worth it; Deconstructing Harry is a near-brilliant mediation on the sometimes queasy relationship between art, creator, and critic. --Diane Garrett« less
The Woodman in the Raw. Great Stuff. A bit strong.
B. Marold | Bethlehem, PA United States | 05/17/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"`Deconstructing Harry', written and directed by Woody Allen, may set the record for famous name cameos in Allen's pictures, with the added twist that you have famous actors playing the parts of other famous name actors in the same movie, as when, for example, Kirsty Ally, one of the Allen character wives, is played by Demi Moore in a playing out of one of the pieces of fiction represented in the movie.
I have often touted the virtue of rewatchability in almost all of Allen's movies. After all, why buy a DVD or tape of a movie if there is no value in watching it more than once. With this movie, it is absolutely essential that you watch it at least three times to understand what is going on, as the movie freely, and with relatively little warning, switches back and forth between cinema reality and Harry's (the Allen character) fiction. In some movies, having trouble keeping track of the plot threads means this is simply a bad movie. There are things in this movie that may have been done poorly, but the parallel thread lines between reality and fiction is not one of them.
This is certainly one of Allen's two or three most highly biographical movies, the others being `Stardust Memories' and `Radio Days'. It is not even a big stretch to make the Allen surrogate character a writer rather than a film maker (as in `Stardust Memories') since Allen did a lot of short story writing for the `New Yorker' before film making took all of his time. All of Allen's favorite subjects, primarily love, sex, death, Judaism, parents, and creativity are here. Books have been written about the themes in Allen's movies. `Deconstructing Harry' could easily take a book or at least a long monograph in itself to explicate all the ideas going on in the real and fictional threads.
Allen even brings in parodies of classic fiction in his references to both Dante's `Divine Comedy' and Milton's `Paradise Lost'. For good measure, there is a short riff on Bergman's grim reaper character in a reprise from his appearance in `Love and Death'. I will not give Allen too much credit for such an obscure reference, but his visit to Hell (borrowed from Greek mythology) makes Hell seem almost like a fun place to be, even for the damned, if the damned subjects happen to have a yen for a little sweaty bondage. The reference I speak of is to the etched illustrations of Dante's `Inferno' done, I believe by a 19th century artist which provided a lot of guilty pleasures as an adolescent in the grownup library stacks.
While this movie is a thoroughly Woody Allen piece, I did get some sense that more than a little influence from Kevin Smith seems to have crept into the dialogue, as the frequency of strong four letter words is dramatically higher than in any other Allen movie. This is improbable, as Smith's first movie, `Clerks' I think just came out shortly before the release of `Deconstructing Harry'. But, the cuss a minute dialogue does remind one of Smith's favorite character, Jay of `Jay and Silent Bob' fame.
The quality of the filming and editing in this movie makes one wonder whether some of the sloppy transitions within and between scenes were not intentional. One can easily imagine that the shooting schedule was such that you only had Robin Williams or Richard Benjamin or Demi Moore or Billy Crystal for a day or a half a day, so if you didn't get perfect shots of them on that day, Allen and his editor possibly did the best they could with what they had. There is a kind of choppyness I simply have never seen in any of Allen's movies before or since this one. One thing which makes me think this obviously choppy editing is intentional is the opening scene behind the credits where the Judy Davis character is seen repeatedly leaving her cab at Harry's apartment in order to beat on him for including their marriage in his latest published piece of fiction. The differences in the 5 or 6 times this sequence is shown are almost random, parodying, in a way, the opening to `Manhattan' where the Allen character's voice over is working through various drafts of an opening line to a piece of fiction. So, instead of literally quoting `Manhattan', Allen shows multiple attempts at editing the same scene. Another intentional effect that suggests the choppy editing is intentional is the riff that makes the actor character played by Robin Williams to literally go out of focus.
The story is really not quite as neat as the two other biographical movies, even though `Stardust Memories' does contain a lot of ambiguity between the cinematic and the real. It is also clearly not as polished as most of his other movies, especially the high gloss works such as `Crimes and Misdemeanors' and `Hannah and Her Sisters'. In some ways, it has the same manic quality of his very early movies such as `Take the Money and Run' and `Bananas'.
And yet, it is easily one of the most interesting about which to spin theories on Allen's sources and his messages. I would only recommend this movie to someone who is fond of Allen's movies already. I would certainly not recommend it to anyone who has never seen or never liked a Woody Allen movie. But, for the faithful, this is pure gold, and funny to boot!
Journey to hell with your inner demons
M. Rausseo | Planet Earth | 07/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In a rare case of art imitating life, Woody Allen gives us his comedy Deconstructing Harry, where we meet Harry Block, a neurotic writer unfaithful to all of his wives, addict to sedatives, obsessed with sex and prostitutes; a man who shamelessly offends family members and friends with his books. In a jiff, a classic Woody Allen character, but darker, sadder, more isolated and more immature. Now, on the verge of a famous University tribute, Harry must deal with his insecurities, bad habits and nerves while he begins a journey where he will interact with dual realities -the ones in his agitated life and the ones reflected through the characters of his books- and will show the audience with very black humor his incapacity to have honest relationships and his absurd excuses to defend his nasty actions. He will revolve in the deepest caves of his destructive side until literally go to hell, as never had done an Allen's character To recommend Deconstructing Harry implies to warn you that you`ll be part of a sordid world of phobias, obsessions, fear of death, hypochondrias and neurosis, all of this wrapped up with a coat of vulgarity and repulsiveness that won't run out through the 96 minutes of the film. It's a respectable, intelligent, witty and crude work. Here, Allen has consumed himself as an irreverent. Honest and brutal, he gives us a stellar cast with colorful characters, with Harry as the center of everything. The dialogs are quick, witty, full of cynicism, and will get as many laughs as many stomach kicks. But let's appreciate his honesty, not criticize it. It's inevitable not to compare Allen's life and personality with his Harry: his ability to create memorable and valuable works, in spite of the scandals surrounding his life, his personality, a little neurotic and lonely. "Why can't I function in life I only function in art"...His willingness to use himself as a joke, his toughness with himself is a hit in Deconstructing Harry, even when it brings him near to self-destruction. Allen`s creative genius and his talent as a filmmaker once again are here on the top. Just like Harry, Allen's life has been full of chaos and scandals, but he has proved, if anyone had a doubt, to be an exceptional artist. And that's the only thing that should matter to the audience. "
inframan | the lower depths | 09/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Definitely the pinnacle of Woody Allen's later period. Funny, insightful, gutsy & honest, it rivals great literature including the best of Phillip Roth. Odd the number of pantywaists offended by the "foul language" of this film. Same people, I guess, who felt Stardust Memories was mean-spirited. Hah! What does that tell us? Mainly that far too many viewers have been boobed down by too much television watching from their earliest days. Great film!"
Wood's best film from the 90's
J. Christal | Teaneck, New Jersey United States | 05/23/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In Deconstructing Harry, Allen protrays his alter-ego of Harry as an abomination, an ultra depressed, woman cheating, tap-dancing (with words), and obviously oblivious to other people's feelings persona. And yet, it is Allen's second best film in my opinion. I like characters like this in the movies, who are unsympathetic and yet in-advertantly by being the protagonist you have to feel a little sympathy after a while (how can't you when he reveals Billy Crystal as a Hollywood hating Satan, a common Jewish man turns out to be a murdering cannibal, and that there are signs that goddesses exist at Victoria's Secret?).Here, Harry has writer's block for the first time in his life (his last name is Block as well, pun possibly intended) since everyone he has taken from his real life and "thinly disguised" isn't around to give him any ideas (outside of the Crystal thing). The bulk of the film holds flashbacks, in brilliantly edited fashion, where he recollects his old stories, the alter egos of his real life wives and relatives and so on. If Woody had made this movie as a deep and serious self-reflection of his demons, it would be interesting but it wouldn't be funny. Here, he reminds his old fans that he can bring laugh out loud jokes and gags, most for Jewish people, to be sure, but all around ones as well, and the moment you realize it's a comedy/drama and not a vulgar piece of cinema that was thrown from Woody's chair as a backlash to the critics, you'll have fun. One of the best pictures from 1997."
Daring Woody Allen Movie
Bjorn Clasen | RollÚngergronn, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Europe | 01/24/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In »Deconstructing Harry«, Woody Allen is playing with effects which we are not quite used to from him. You hear swearwords, see sex scenes, and you are even taken on a trip down to Hell!Despite these surprises - or perhaps because of them - it works very well. It works brilliantly, in fact. I laughed my way through nearly all of the film.But there is a great deal of philosophy to it as well. The main character Harry (Woody Allen) who is an author is confronted with characters created by himself in his books. And since these characters are a little more than just based on persons from Harry's own life, the border between reality and fantasy becomes pretty wiped out. Very interesting aspect - and extremely elegantly constructed!The meta aspect gets and extra kick as one of Harry's first-person-characters becomes out of focus! A totally genius and hilarious detail! Which ends in the film's key quotation, said by Harry's shrink: »You expect the World to adjust to the distortion you've become!«The cast is densely occupied by stars even in small roles - Kirstie Alley, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Demi Moore and not least GOOORgeous (AND naturally well-acting) Elisabeth Shue."