Deconstructing Harry Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999

Your stories are sad, but I like to deconstruct them because they're happy underneath-- you just don't realize it.

The films of Woody Allen have always had a confessional tone about them, a reflection of the own neuroses and personal turmoil of the writer/director. "Deconstructing Harry", his follow-up effort to "Everyone Says I Love You", is an acknowledgment by Allen of how much of his films borrow from his own personal life. Abundant with recognizable stars and the writer/director's snappy observations/one-liners, this delectable transcendental comedy is very much a cross between Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries", and Allen's own "Purple Rose of Cairo".

You take everybody's misery and turn it into gold.

Harry Block (Allen) is suffering from writer's block, unable to start his latest novel after having already squandered the publisher's advance. And the college that he attended a number of years ago wants to honor him with an award in recognition of his literary accomplishments, despite the fact that he was kicked out for attempting to administer an enema to the Dean's wife. As Harry goes in search of someone to accompany him on the introspective road-trip to the ceremony, he must cope with the disappointments and mistakes that haunt him, meeting the real people and fictional characters that populate his life. His latest girlfriend Fay (Elizabeth Shue, last seen in "The Saint"), is unable to accompany him because she is about to marry Larry (Billy Crystal), Harry's best friend who he envisions as the Devil incarnate. Hilly (Eric Lloyd) is his young son, but Joan (Kirstie Alley, currently seen in "For Richer or Poorer"), Harry's therapist ex-wife, fears for Harry's sexual obsession rubbing off on him. Lucy (Judy Davis) is a gun-wielding former sister-in-law who is angry at reading the details of her torrid affair with Harry thinly-disguised in his last novel. Richard (Bob Balaban) is Harry's hypochondriac friend who is afraid of having a heart attack. And Cookie (Hazelle Goodman) is a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold that Harry hires when he's depressed. If this profusion of characters wasn't difficult enough to handle, there are also the characters that occupy Harry's fictional world that correspond to the real world ones.

Between air conditioning and the Pope, I'll take air conditioning.

The carefully-constructed narrative eases between the real world and the fictional world, the past and the present, filling in the necessary details about Harry's life without becoming confusing. The fictional characters (played by Demi Moore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Richard Benjamin, and others) are well-defined and well-cast, showing the contrasts and similarities between Harry's life and his own interpretation of it. Editor Susan E. Morse also shows the distinction between both worlds by the use of Godardian jump-cuts to great effect in the real world sequences, showing the disarray of Harry's splintered life (the same technique used on TV's "Homicide: Life on the Street"), and the use of more traditional camera work in the fictional sequences. Allen is also not afraid to revel in his own brilliance by going off on a tangent, and the results are mixed, with some truly memorable, such as the digression into one of Block's short stories where Robin Williams ("Good Will Hunting") is an actor that finds himself literally 'out of focus', and some not so memorable, such as a "Star Wars"-themed bar mitzvah.

What are you in Hell for?
I invented aluminum siding.

"Deconstructing Harry" is your prototypical Woody Allen film, following the travails of a self-obsessed neurotic, but done in a novel manner that will keep you enthralled throughout the brisk 95 minute running time. It is frequently funny, taking pointed jabs at just about everything, though it is pointedly more profane than his previous work, a result of Allen's need to clearly illustrate the immaturity and sexual-obsession of Harry Block. Overall, it is a showcase to the brilliance of Woody Allen as a writer/director, and proof as to why he is a creative genius in both intent and execution.

The most beautiful words in the English language aren't "I love you"-- they're "It's benign".

Go Back to Movie Review Archive Index