© 1997 Jean Doumanian Productions

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

I am continuing to go back and watch the Woody Allen films I have only seen once or twice, as opposed to the others that I have seen over and over. I sort of remembered Deconstructing Harry as an ambitious film that didn’t work all that well, but watching it again, I appreciated that it is full of lots of interesting little ideas. The basic story, about an artist who travels out of town to be honored, is similar to Stardust Memories from 1980, which Allen believes is one of his best films, and I agree with him. So it is tempting to compare the two films and find the later one lacking, but beyond the basic plot, the two films are quite different. As Allen has admitted in interviews, Stardust Memories is mostly an imagined narrative. From the moment that Allen’s character looks at the rabbit his cook was planning to cook for dinner, until the very end of the film when he finds himself in the exact same spot, everything unfolds in the mind of that character. Allen has always denied claims that his films are inspired by his personal life or his career and Stardust Memories was one he particular had to defend, as critics and audiences thought he was trying to say they were foolish for preferring his “early, funny movies.” Later, when Allen and Mia Farrow played a married couple splitting up in Husbands and Wives, released just after their real life breakup, he still denied that the story was at all inspired by his private life. In Deconstructing Harry, he takes the tendency for people to read an artist’s work autobiographically and uses it for comedic effect. Allen plays a short story writer who shamelessly bases his work on past wives and lovers, with the fictional world getting slightly more glamorous actors replacing the real world counterparts: Richard Benjamin representing Allen’s character, Demi Moore replacing Kirstie Alley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus standing in for Judy Davis. The title character finds that he functions much better in the fictional world he creates than the real world, and when he gets writer’s block, he is forced to reevaluate his life. The constant jumping back and forth between Harry’s real life and his fictional world gets a bit tiresome, but some good acting performances, especially by the always good Judy Davis, make the effort of keeping track of which is which worth it.

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