Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen) 1997

Harry Block (Woody Allen) is suffering from writers block.  Block is known for writing stories based on his real life which upsets all the people who know him.  We follow Block as he is going to be honored at a college.  During the trip in which he brings his son and a prostitute, he is haunted by characters and stories from his past.

After about 15 minutes of watching Deconstructing Harry I let out a sigh.  It wasn’t a sign of boredom or exhaustion but of relief.  I had been waiting for this Woody Allen for a long time.  After seeing many of what I consider to be lazy efforts, this felt like the first time in a long time where Allen got his edge back.

The plot is similar to a Bergman film called Wild Strawberries.  But with the dreamy elements and for those not familiar with Bergman, the better comparison is with Allen’s own Stardust Memories.  Stardust was Allen essentially copying Fellini’s 8 ½.  I was left a little cold with Stardust because it felt too much like Allen was straight up emulating Fellini.  What I love about Deconstructing Harry is that this feels like a truly Allen style interpretation of 8 ½.  This is not Fellini’s voice but Allen’s.

The humor in this movie kind of reminded me of a Monty Python movie.  Holy Grail for example seemed to be several knight related sketches they corralled together under a loose main plot.  Deconstructing Harry seems like several joke concepts Allen had written out about writers and sex and creativity all tied around the main plot of Harry Block having writers block.  For example, Block is explaining his writers block to his shrink and he relates it to a skit about an actor (played by Robin Williams) who is literally out of focus in the world so he walks around as this fuzzy blob.  Another skit involves Harry going to hell to get back his girlfriend from the devil played by Billy Crystal.

There is some debate as to who this movie is about.  Some argue this is partially about Allen while others say this is critical of Phillip Roth.  I’ll plead ignorance on this one cause while I know some about Allen, I know absolutely nothing about Roth.  I do see some merit in the comparisons to Allen.  I am not someone who believes Allen’s films are strictly biographical but I do think loosely based.  I don’t think we are seeing real life Woody events on film but Allen’s thoughts on creativity, philosophy, and love reflect his real attitudes.   So I don’t think his girlfriends are shrews or any of the crazy stuff happened, I do think the underlying nugget is that Allen recognizes he has done some crappy things in his life.

Like I alluded to before, I love the fact Allen is going all out on this one.  While before, he might make a single movie out of a joke concept, here it is rapid fire skits.  Allen is going full on adult humor and his witty rapid fire dialog returns.  It may be argued that the movie is hard to get into because Block is unlikable but I don’t see a problem.  For one, the movie isn’t asking you to side with him on everything and I find that for all the crap Block dishes out, the world gives it back in equal measure.  Block acts like a juvenile and gets treated as one by the people around him.  Allen has always been his best critic and the self deprecating humor is especially biting.  The ending also doesn’t feel sugar coated and seems somewhat optimistic while not being rose colored.

Deconstructing Harry had been one of the first Allen movies I had seen.  While I liked it, I had not seen it since that time due to the DVD being discontinued (DVD copies are now rare and expensive).  Seeing it again for this retrospective I forgot how much I absolutely love it.  This was such a relief to see Woody Allen back in stride and this movie easily is one of my favorites from him.


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