Deconstructing Harry (18)

Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen, Elizabeth Shue, Billy Crystal, Judy Davis, Robin Williams, Julie Kavner, Kirstie Allie, Demi Moore

Genius or jerk? The Woody Allen debate reminds me of the recent UK tv ad campaign for Marmite- you either love it or you hate it with little in between. One of the reasons Allen's films are disliked by some is that often Allen seems to go the Charlie Chaplin course, demanding that you find him lovable or amusing or clever. At the very least you must sympathize with his woes. However, the revelations about his private life and the Mia Farrow/ Soon Yi Previn affair have done little to broaden his appeal. Despite the bad press, Allen can attract big name stars like no other director. Most of the above named stars are little more than bit players, but Hollywood's biggest name actors seem to be falling over themselves to be in a Woody Allen Film.
My dad, and probably others around the world, complain that they simply don't find Woody Allen funny, and I must say some of his angsty whining does get a bit irritating, but this film is something a bit different. For a start it contains more swear words than Tarentino or Scorsese. Indeed I found it a little funny that QT's Jackie Brown, released around the same time is a 15 certificate, while Woody's movie is an 18! Woody plays writer Harry Block, a sad little man (rather like another Woody), who displays the usual Woody characteristics of being irresistible to women- particularly young and beautiful women. Harry is being honoured by his old college, and the film follows his attempts to find someone to go with him, and his various relationships. Where Allen scores big time, is that for once, his character is a nasty, selfish, unfaithful and pretty inadequate man. We don't have to love him, instead his vanity and ego are part of the joke. Harry's filthy language is another sign of Allen's puposefully unsympathetic portrayal - why these lovely women go for him is beyond me!
Another way in which this film worked for me was that Allen has returned to his outrageous storytelling in the sections that re-enact Harry's stories. We see the stange-and very amusing- actor who suddenly goes out of focus and young Harry stalked by the grim reaper in a case of mistaken identity. The film New York Stories was generally considered to be a flop. It was the one where Allen, Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola each directed a short film all based around NY. Allen's section about a nagging Jewish mother who became like a genial genie for the Big Apple's inhabitants was my favourite by some way, and like Radio Days and The Purple Rose of Cairo, featured Woody Allen's best story telling in my opinion. In Deconstruction Harry, Allen frequently goes for the funny or bizzare stories, like when he visits hell and meets the devil as played by Billy Crystal- cue for more bad taste jokes from an unrepentant Woody about, you guessed it, sex! Or screen wife Kirstie Allie conducting a therapy session with a patient while arguing with Harry about his infidelity complete with screaming and swearing. OK, so the film is still not your Hollywood plot driven blockbuster, but the different sections and flashbacks break up the film nicely.
The stars are all fine, with Woody regulars Julie Kavner and Judy Davis almost charicaturing themselves. Kavner is a living, breathing Marg Simpson(who she voices), Judy Davis a complete neurotic- over the top as Davis sometimes can. It was wierd to see Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, two of the funniest screen comedians be virtually straight men to the Woodster. I wonder if it was in their contracts that they could not be funnier than Woody?
While this film is unlikely to find any new converts to the Woody Allen cause for fans like me, it is a lot of fun seeing nasty mean Woody, although I do wish those women could have hit him a few times- Harry was a pig and deserved it! A higher than usual quota of decent jokes and funny stories. I liked it. 7/10

April 1998

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