Deconstructing Harry


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Deconstructing Harry
"Being prolific implies over-exposure and repetition. Not with Allen. He gets better. He takes more risks."

Who is Harry Block? Don't ask him. He hasn't a clue. He's a writer, yes. He writes about his wives and friends, yes. They get mad. He squirms, retreats, offers pale excuses. He knows he is someone girls should have nothing to do with. He tells them so, even while he's kissing them. He's such a... Fill in the space. Make it nasty. Harry likes nasty. He likes being beaten by whores. Sex, pain and humiliation. My God! Life is good/bad/great/horrible. Guess what's worse? He can't write anymore. He's blocked. First time in his life - Block is blocked. Now he's popping pills and drinking and talking to the characters in his novels.

Woody Allen's imagination keeps losing its inhibitions, as if waiting for Harry. It is too easy to dismiss his work as more of the same. Every year, The Woody Allen Movie. Like every year, creatures from Mars. And yet he has never stopped experimenting. People don't think of him as a pusher of envelopes, an avant guardist, a modern man. He's all of these things when he's in the mood, as well as writing the funniest dialogue.

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Being prolific implies over-exposure and repetition. Not with him. He gets better. He takes more risks. He uses bigger actors in smaller parts. He swears. Writers in movies tend to be little boys in long pants, or angst ridden depressives. Seldom, if ever, does anyone come close to realising the strange world of the creative psyche. Allen does so here by treating Harry's fictional characters the same as his three ex-wives, his 10-year-old son, his sad friend Richard and Cookie, the black prostitute. In other words, his real and invented lives coexist with emotionally fragmented results, which the cinematography reflects.

Even more successfully than ever he has attracted a cast of the famous, the once famous and the waiting-to-be famous. Robin Williams plays a short story person and Demi Moore a fictional spouse. Richard Benjamin is Harry-in-print, having a fling with his wife's sister, and Tobey Maguire is young Harry-in-a-story, discovering the mystery and terror of sex. Kirstie Alley is the shrink he married and divorced, who has stayed angry. Elisabeth Shue is the student he seduced and Billy Crystal the friend who stole her. Judy Davis is his real ex-wife's sister, who goes ballistic when their snatched-in-a-corner passions are reproduced, thinly disguised, in Harry's latest tome.

Allen's acting is more lively than of late and his writing tears off its wrapper. He is as sharp as ever about human foibles, but this time he's not being nice. He's shouting back. Recently, movie comedy has gone soft (exception: Wag The Dog). Woody is here to remind those who have lost faith that it's still relevant, still dangerous.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Comedy about a writer with permanent block.
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Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Elisabeth Shue, Judy Davis, Caroline Aaron, Kirsty Allie, Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Eric Bogosian, Billy Crystal, Tobey Maguire, Hazelle Goodman

Year: 1997

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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