It's the New Woody Allen Movie. In capital letters. And even when the old clarinetist is playing slightly out of tune, as he is in Deconstructing Harry, it doesn't make so much difference. Faithful as the Earth circling the sun, Allen's comedies of anxiety keep on coming, one per year. If he doesn't quite measure up now and then to his own past performances, you can still count on enough acid verve, enough spiky neurosis, enough wry black bleakness to carry the day until next time.
So it happens here. This is no Annie Hall, with the great lobsters-on-the-loose scene, no Manhattan, with those starlit overviews of Yankee Stadium afloat on the "Rhapsody in Blue," not even Bullets Over Broadway, bathed in wacky theatrical charm. But the slaphappy, unhappy saga of one Harry Block--guess what? He's a self-absorbed New York writer with artistic, erotic and psychological problems--provides our satisfying annual fix of Woodyana.
The pivotal conceit this time is one he's used before: the battle between life and fiction. Like his creator, Harry's helpless when it comes to keeping all his own wrongheaded passions and missteps out of his work. Everything's in there. The result? He's assailed (for real) by the ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, ex-best friends and ex-in-laws he uses on the pages and (enter Signore Pirandello, piacere) by the very characters he's made from them.
Quite a mess for a guy who already drinks too much, gulps pills by the handful and can't get over his taste for hookers. Throw in the impending wedding of his best friend (Billy Crystal) to his former girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue), an honorary trip upstate to the college that once expelled him and his first-ever case of writer's block (Harry Block, get it?), and the trouble is complete.
Meanwhile, there's a cast of 85--Demi Moore as the psychiatrist/wife of Harry's dreams and nightmares; Robin Williams as an actor who's literally out of focus before the camera; Hazelle Goodman as the streetwalker in hotpants Harry takes with him to college; Richard Benjamin as another of Harry's fictional alter-egos, come back to kvetch. The gang's all here: Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Eric Bogosian, Kirstie Alley, Julie Kavner, Stanley Tucci, Judy Davis, Bob Balaban. Everybody wants to be in the New Woody Allen Movie. And everybody is.
Ever think you'd hear Woody Allen call someone "a world-class meshuggeneh cunt" in one of his pictures? Post-Keaton, post-Mia, post-media, he does it here, sprinkling the script with a lot of "fucks" and even cooking up his own version of Hell--a kind of postmodern dance club with "Sing Sing Sing" blaring out of the speakers, hot-red walls and lots of writhing nude women, disapproving fathers, failed friends and (because this is still the old Woody, too) the man who invented aluminum siding.
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As a comic meditation on Life and Art, Deconstructing Harry is a bit lukewarm. As Woody's Revenge, it's uncommonly barbed. As the New Woody Allen Movie, it will have to do--and does.
Written and directed by Woody Allen. With Woody Allen, Hazelle Goodman, Billy Crystal, Eric Lloyd, Elisabeth Shue, Demi Moore and Richard Benjamin.