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Deconstructing Harry

August 14, 2013

Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Director: Woody Allen
Actors: Woody Allen, Bob Balaban, Judy Davis

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Synopsis: New York writer Harry Block (Woody Allen) finds his life in turmoil. His three ex-wives all vilify him, he’s got a severe case of writer’s block, and he’s got to go to the college he was kicked out from to collect an honorary degree.

Review: Deconstructing Harry is a lovely reminder of a time when Woody Allen made films that were forces of energy, bundles of fun, and bubbling with ideas, ingenuities and bucketloads of humour. Sure, it’s a ragtag of a movie, and I never quite believe the central, ‘profound’ conceit that Harry Block is a man who can only live his life through art (the film doesn’t really spend enough time exploring the realities of his writing and daily life, beyond the characters voicing such a fact).

It’s the ragged edges around this aspirational plot hook that provide the real enjoyment. First, it’s easily one of Allen’s funniest films – almost scabrous in tone, and full of ‘agricultural’ language and smutty humour. It also has a really convincing screwball quality, reaching its apex when Allen arrives at his stuffy alma mater with a motley crew consisting of a hooker, his abducted son, and the dead body of his friend. Allen also experiments with form, not just content, finding cinematic ways to capture the zany anxiety of his story with jump-cuts, a frayed chronology, and numerous stories-within-stories. These little vignettes of his literary lives informing his real-life neuroses are more witty than deep, but they achieve a strong climactic pay-off in the surprisingly powerful end-scene where Allen dreams that his honorary degree ceremony is populated by all his fictional characters – standing as testament to the worth of his art, if not his chaotic personal life. (August 2013)

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