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 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 **** 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.
With "Deconstructing Harry," writer/director/star Woody Allen once again ventures into the realm of all things "meta," looking to define the thin line between art and real life. With this, you not only see the protagonist dealing with the implications of their works, but — potentially — Allen reckoning with his own in turn. This makes for an interesting, if undeniably self-indulgent work on the part of the filmmaker in question. The self-deprecation definitely helps to even things out in the end, but I'd still say this isn't one of Woody Allen's finest efforts. Still, it's fun to see this absolutely stacked cast have fun with the material at hand. Also, some of the vignettes littered throughout were very funny. All in all, I can't say I necessarily regret the watch.
Unnervingly, it is both hilariously funny and quite disturbing, with Allen's neuroses and fixations manifested in some shocking ugliness and intimately personal revelations we'd rather not have seen confirmed.
Although the performances by the star-studded cast are generally excellent, only Billy Crystal really manages to transcend the dour misery of Allen's script: His witty turn as a dapper Satan is a blessed relief from the neurotic gloom.
This is very much a Woody Allen film. I felt a bit put off it because it's quite such a Woody Allen film - there are some amusing moments but the main character is certainly less than likeable and I didn't feel entirely comfortable at how the main protagonist regards women, some of the comments made. Some of the situations are amusing, in a farcical kind of a way and I like the fact of it being seemingly part based on a writers prose. There's a good cast in this film but it's not a film I'd outrightly recommend, **** seemed too much of an ego trip to me. Also, there is a twist at the end that kind of explains it but it didn't change my overall opinion of the film overall.
Simultaneously mean-spirited and self-deprecating, Deconstructing Harry is Allen at his most misanthropic. The problem is that it is, in spite of itself, one of Allen's more interesting and compelling dramas, only taken through such a two-dimensionally sour vein, given its characters. Despite having individual sketches that are actually quite funny, this is the Allen movie where all the bad things people say about him are very true.