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Deconstructing Harry

movie review by
Gary Johnson

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In terms of structure, Deconstructing Harry is one of Woody Allen's most interesting and innovative movies. It recalls previous efforts, such as The Purple Rose of Cairo, that pitted the real world against the fictional. In this case, Woody Allen plays a novelist named Harry Block who writes thinly-disguised autobiographical works of fiction; the movie alternates between scenes from his novels, where Richard Benjamin plays the Harry Block character and Julia-Louis Dreyfeus plays the object of his lust--his wife's sister, Leslie. Meanwhile Allen struggles with the real world Leslie, named Lucy (Judy Davis), who is now furious with him about including their affair in his book. As the movie moves back and forth between the real and the fictional, we see Harry's sexual obsessions: "I love hookers. They come over and you don't have to discuss Proust."

Unlike his previous movies, Allen gives us a character seeking sex wherever he can find it. He's never met a woman that he didn't immediately imagine naked. And while some people might say that this development represents growth in the Allen oeuvre (and who wasn't hoping that Allen could break out of the increasingly-narrow niche that he had carved for himself?), I felt little more than ambivalence. The past neuroses of Allen's characters carried a childlike charm, whereas the new, sexually-obsessed Allen is frequently ugly. Whereas before, I could relate to the frustrations and fears of his characters, now I just feel boredom. Even with a cast that includes Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Demi Moore, and Elisabeth Shue (as well as the aforementioned Richard Benjamin, Julia-Louis Dreyfeus, and Judy Davis), Deconstructing Harry becomes a tiresome exercise in airing sexual peccadilloes. Even a trip to Hell with Billy Crystal as the Devil is curiously muted.

Ultimately, Deconstructing Harry is about a character unable to function in life who can only function in art. An interesting idea--provided you care about the sexual obsessions in question.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]

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