Fine Line Features | Release Date: December 12, 1997
Generally favorable reviews based on 27 Ratings
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brentf.Dec 9, 2005
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SpangleMay 30, 2017
Deconstructing Harry is another one of those pseudo-philosophical and pseudo-intellectual comedy-dramas by Woody Allen that is highly semi-autobiographical. Except, this one actually just comes out and admits this fact. Focused on writerDeconstructing Harry is another one of those pseudo-philosophical and pseudo-intellectual comedy-dramas by Woody Allen that is highly semi-autobiographical. Except, this one actually just comes out and admits this fact. Focused on writer Harry Block (Allen), a philandering, nihilistic, atheist, Jewish, and misanthropic man, Deconstructing Harry is the film that Allen had always made, but never this upfront with the film's central character admitting that all of his characters and work are informed by his own experience. Of course, there is another layer to the madness with the life of Harry Block being heavily informed by Allen's own experiences and own determinations about his character as a human being. Funny, compelling, and introspective, Deconstructing Harry is perhaps one of Allen's most ambition amalgamations of his scattered and fragmented mind and, though the results are a bit more mixed, they are always impeccably admirable.

Sending Harry through the ringer where he is called a loser by everybody around him, put to task for his own self-hatred, and called out on his philandering and lying, Deconstructing Harry is Allen's own admission of guilt. He throws his hands up and admits that, yes, he has screwed up repeatedly. He has hurt those who loved him and cannot understand why anybody would leave him. He makes up fictional worlds because he cannot live in the real one without having to confront real emotions. For a man his age, he is deathly afraid of growing up and having to confront the fact that he is a jerk. Yet, in spite of this, he has no intentions of changing. In conversations with Larry (Billy Crystal), it quickly becomes clear that, though his nostalgia for the past holds a special place in his heart, it is also a part of his life that he is not entirely willing to let go of quite yet. He is a man who always wants his cake and to eat it too with a complete lack of understanding as to why other people will not allow this type of behavior. He is afraid of retribution and, as such, hides himself in his stories. Unable to write due to writer's block, however, it is time for Harry to wake up and smell the coffee.

While Allen has previously gotten quite self-referential - see Stardust Memories and Radio Days - this film is perhaps his most openly personal. It is not hard to see the parallels between the maligned Harry and Allen's own personal life. Neurotic and always making the wrong choice in his personal life, he invites controversy and has been the recipient of such by anybody with any sort of moral definition in their life. Even as a lover of his films, it is hard to deny that Allen does not have a deeply troubled personal life with many different crosses he is forced to bear. Deconstructing Harry is, essentially, Allen's own admission of this truth. While clearly not mentioning any intent to change or to alter his way of existence from how he currently operates, it is at least admitting that he has been bad to women, is a self-hating Jew who mocks Jews and religious folks out of this self-hatred, and he is impeccably nihilistic, neurotic, and misanthropic to the point that he is deeply depressed. If there is a wrong step, he takes it and that is exactly how Harry acts in this film. This certainly makes this film the easiest acting job ever put in by Allen with no real character to get into, but as a writer-director, he is given a great challenge. Everybody knows it is himself, so how can he handle it without seeming too self-affirming? By making Harry about repugnant with no redeeming qualities. He betrays everybody, cheats on every woman he is with, and then has no idea why everybody hates him. It is easy to hate Harry and Allen knows this and this is where the film becomes rather depressing. Unlike the work of Harry Block that is depressing on the surface, but fun underneath according to one admirer, this film is one that is fun on the surface, but deeply depressing underneath. By the end of the film, it is clear that Allen feels great guilt, but sees no path to redemption for himself because he is not a good person. At the very least, he has his art, but is that really enough if he cannot function like everybody else in the real world? This is a film about a man who does not feel happy or comfortable in his own skin, which is a truly tragic thing to watch unfold. For his part, he dresses it up nicely with comedy, but it cannot hide the truth behind the laughter.
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