Movie Review #739
Directed by Woody Allen. Written by Woody Allen. Produced by Jean Doumanian for Sweetland Films – A Jean Doumanian Production. Starring Judy Davis, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Stephanie Roth, Joel Leffert, Richard Benjamin, Woody Allen, Tobey Maguire, Annette Arnold, Lortensia Hayes, Sunny Chae, Ralph Pope, Robin Williams, Julie Kavner, Kirstie Alley, Eric Lloyd, Mariel Hemingway, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Bob Balaban, Brian McConnachie, Elisabeth Shue, Peter Jacobson, Hazelle Goodman, Amy Irving, Caroline Aaron, Eric Bogosian, Hy Anzell, Shifra Lerer, Viola Harris, Si Picker, Howard Spiegel, Billy Crystal, Eugene Trobnick, Scotty Bloch, Ray Aranha, Paul Giamatti, Marvin Chatinover, Daniel Wolf, Philip Bosco, Arden Myrin, and Dan Moran. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on August 26, 1997. Distributed by FineLine Features (A Time Warner Company) and Buena Vista International in wide release on December 12, 1997. Rated R: strong language and some sexuality. Runs 96 minutes.
“Deconstructing Harry” is pretty much what it sounds like, a movie that thoroughly and humorously dissects a single character. In fact it’s so thorough (and so humorous) that anyone else in the story is an incredibly subservient role, serving the sole purpose of establishing this one character. His name, of course, is Harry, and he’s a Jewish novelist who prefers to view life in terms of cynicism rather than hope or religion. He’s played by Woody Allen, who also writes and directs. Of course we’ve seen him play this character countless times, but Harry seems like his most honest and unyielding version of the individual.
The movie is stylish for an Allen piece. Even the routinely plain title sequence had something different to offer this time around. I dare say that with the repeated, hurried use of stock footage during the opening, the movie gains its neurotic character early on. But it’s even more impressive that there is, in fact, style in the very substance of the film. “Deconstructing Harry” is a huge anomaly for Woody Allen. Either that of he’s just brilliantly rewriting his “Radio Days” from a decade earlier. Our scope of Harry is that he’s such a great novelist that he’s earning respect and, in fact, an award from a college that expelled him for his apathetic performance as a student. Meanwhile, he’s suffering writer’s block (a disease that features horrors which cannot be given proper depiction any more effectively than the bubonic plague, but anyway).
We venture through flashbacks, anecdotes, and memories as Harry uses his past for inspiration. And it’s not just a great Allen performance we get throughout this time. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Judy Davis are both outstanding here. Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and a young Tobey Maguire steal their cameo moments in flashbacks. It’s hard not to admit that the repetitive shift between past and present makes for an extremely formulaic script. “Deconstructing Harry” will lose the interest from the biggest of Allen fans for some time because of this. Yes, the movie is overall enjoyable, but perhaps if there was a little less tight of an approach to this creative premise, I’d be willing to give the film another half a star for its brilliance. ✴
– Alexander Diminiano