Review: Deconstructing Harry (1997)

deconstructing harry

What we think of ourselves isn’t always pretty!

Written By: Woody Allen
Directed By: Woody Allen

Deconstructing Harry is a prime example of what happens when an artist decides to shine a light on themselves. A somewhat autobiographical film, Deconstructing Harry does not paint a pleasant picture of Woody Allen. As Harry Block there’s nothing to root for in Mr. Allen’s character. He is manipulative, untrustworthy, fraudulent, unfaithful, and any number of other cringe worthy labels I could write in this space. Harry is an unsavory individual, and since he is a surrogate for Mr. Allen that means everyone’s favorite nebbish comedian is also an unsavory individual. There are those who for completely understandable reasons probably already pegged Mr. Allen as unsavory. However, to have the man himself put together a motion picture that screams, “I’m not a good guy,” is shocking, invigorating, and ultimately enjoyable to watch.

That doesn’t mean that Deconstructing Harry is an easy watch, this film is far from easy. It’s difficult to watch a lead character who is intent on sabotaging his life at every turn. Harry is so damaging to his own life that even in his fantasies he causes trouble and attacks the people he knows. The way that the thesis of the film is presented is not an easy nut to crack. For a while I was convinced that Deconstructing Harry was nothing more than another absurd comedy from Mr. Allen. I spent the first fifteen minutes thinking I was watching a giant swing and miss from one of my favorite directors. As I let the film play out, and realized that Mr. Allen was probing and not wallowing, the intelligence of the construction, sorry for the bad pun, of Deconstructing Harry took shape in my mind.

I found myself laughing quite a bit during Deconstructing Harry. Yes, Harry is self-destructive and detrimental to the well being of those who surround him. He’s also funny in a typically Woody Allen sort of way. The fidgety mannerisms are present and the ability to mock anything and everything is present. I was most impressed with how smart the comedy of Deconstructing Harry ended up being. I know I’ve extolled the virtues of Mr. Allen’s smart comedy in the past but it’s especially impressive when he aims the smartness of his comedy directly at his own personage.

The one area that fit the film but didn’t quite work for me was the editing. The quick, and abrupt, cuts that populated the film were disorienting. That was their purpose, and they worked in accomplishing their goal. However, I didn’t like the aesthetic they created, and found that they took me out of the film when they occurred. Luckily they weren’t plenty, and as the film went along the abrupt cuts in the middle of a scene happened less and less, but when they did happen they managed to annoy me. I was initially annoyed by the broad comedy taking place in the film. As the film progressed I realized I had rushed to judgement and that the comedy had only been broad in the fantasy sequences. In that regard the broadness worked as it was an extension of the broad mind of someone unwilling to confront the type of person he had become.

When I finished Deconstructing Harry I wasn’t sure what to think of the picture. The more I thought about this Woody Allen feature the more I liked what I had seen. It’s not near the top of Mr. Allen’s filmography, but it’s darn close. Deconstructing Harry is a startlingly harsh statement by a filmmaker about his own faults and foibles. Say what you will about Mr. Allen, but with Deconstructing Harry no one can say that he was afraid to shine a harsh light on the way he lived his life. Taking that in as a fan of Mr. Allen’s work created quite the stimulating viewing experience.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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