Movie Magazine International

Deconstructing Harry

USA - 1997

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry" uses a motif of jump cuts that mirrors the fragmented inner and outer lives of one Harry Block, played by Allen. Harry's universe is peopled by highly dysfunctional characters, real and invented, who labor under the illusion that they're fine, it's the rest of the world that has the problem.

He's a writer whose bestseller tells secrets about those people and they're not happy. Particularly his ex-sister-in-law and lover who expresses her unhappiness with a gun. She's played by Judy Davis with such explosive hysteria that it seems nothing short of miraculous that her frail body could contain the volume and intensity of this emotional typhoon. Heck, Sophie Tucker on steroids seems too frail..

Yet, even within this dysfunctional world, there lurks the odd, well-adjusted person and for him, Harry reserves his most potent venom. He may be Harry's best friend, but Harry's fantasies turn him into Satan himself. But this being Harry's fantasy, Hell turns out to be a piece of voluptuous cake. It's the pilgrim's progress through a real-world trial by fire that inflicts infernal pain as things go from bad to worse to embarrassing while Harry travels to a ceremony honoring him at his alma mater.

This is Allen's funniest picture in years, and his first to use nudity and naughty language as he flirts meaningfully with magical realism and the absurd. There's a story of mass murder and cannibalism that evokes self-conscious giggles and an odd sympathy for the murderer/gourmet who is at the mercy of his nagging, nudging wife.

I have to wonder. As Allen deconstructs Harry, is he also telling us anything about himself that we didn't already know and by that I mean the usual schtick about sex, religion and family? Could the character that's permanently out of focus, the technical term is going soft, be a metaphor for a condition Allen finds himself in during these his autumn years? There are clues, though, that the Woodster is being misleading. Why else make the only Asian woman in the film a miracle-working prostitute. It's a meta-joke, to be sure, but is the obvious punch line the correct one? Frankly, I laughed way too much to care.

© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 12/24/97

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