January 2, 1998 in Seven

Woody And ‘Harry’ Latest Allen Film Undoubtedly Funny, Disturbingly Flawed

Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press
 

‘Deconstructing Harry” presents critics with a problem.

The problem isn’t deciding whether the movie, Woody Allen’s latest, is funny. It is. “Harry” rips up the life of a cranky novelist (Allen) whose friends are starting to get hacked off that he keeps using their lives in his books. The movie alternates scenes of Harry’s interaction with his friends and lovers (including Kirstie Alley, Elisabeth Shue and Judy Davis) and scenes that dramatize Harry’s novels. The latter scenes feature an all-star cast (Demi Moore, Robin Williams, Stanley Tucci) playing the people in Harry’s books.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and it gives the Woodman a chance to settle some scores. For instance, one of his ex-partners in the movie falls in love with a pretentious novelist who acts a lot like Philip Roth (Mia Farrow is involved with Roth in real life). And there’s a hilarious trip to hell, spelling out who ends up on which level of damnation (book critics don’t fare well).

“Deconstructing Harry” has a higher percentage of great lines than any of Allen’s movies since “Husbands and Wives,” and the performers are terrific, especially Kirstie Alley as a vituperative therapist. But the more I watched “Harry,” the more I was creeped out by Allen’s misogyny. Almost every woman in the movie is a shrill harpy, and I suppose you could argue that we’re only seeing them from Harry’s perspective, but the fact remains that there are only two semi-likable women in the movie, and they are hookers. On top of that, there are only two people of color in the movie, and guess which two roles they play?

If you said the hookers, you get the prize. And that’s the dilemma for critics: What do you say about a movie that is often very funny, but that also is misogynistic and at least unconsciously racist? Come to think of it, I guess I just said it.

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “DECONSTRUCTING HARRY” Location: Lincoln Heights Cinema Art Credits: Directed by Woody Allen; starring Woody Allen, Demi Moore, Judy Davis, Billy Crystal, Julia Louis Dreyfus Running time: 1:35 Rating: R

2. OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Deconstructing Harry:” Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times: People are going to be furious at Woody Allen’s latest film and it’s not difficult to see why. Writer Harry Block, played by Allen himself, is petty, spiteful and vindictive and his self-absorbed, misogynistic antics are painful to experience. But “Deconstructing Harry” is also bracingly funny, and from a dramatic and psychological point of view, it is compelling viewing. Janet Maslin/New York Times: Though “Deconstructing Harry” often follows a familiar Allen format, indulging in a string of domestic arguments about Harry and his misdeeds, it also bursts into wild fantasies with wonderful regularity. Henry Sheehan/The Orange County Register: Lately, Allen has come up with movies that, whatever their shortcomings, at least seem to have a reason for existence. “Deconstructing Harry” may have some laughs, but it never answers the implicit question: Why was this movie made?

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “DECONSTRUCTING HARRY” Location: Lincoln Heights Cinema Art Credits: Directed by Woody Allen; starring Woody Allen, Demi Moore, Judy Davis, Billy Crystal, Julia Louis Dreyfus Running time: 1:35 Rating: R

2. OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Deconstructing Harry:” Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times: People are going to be furious at Woody Allen’s latest film and it’s not difficult to see why. Writer Harry Block, played by Allen himself, is petty, spiteful and vindictive and his self-absorbed, misogynistic antics are painful to experience. But “Deconstructing Harry” is also bracingly funny, and from a dramatic and psychological point of view, it is compelling viewing. Janet Maslin/New York Times: Though “Deconstructing Harry” often follows a familiar Allen format, indulging in a string of domestic arguments about Harry and his misdeeds, it also bursts into wild fantasies with wonderful regularity. Henry Sheehan/The Orange County Register: Lately, Allen has come up with movies that, whatever their shortcomings, at least seem to have a reason for existence. “Deconstructing Harry” may have some laughs, but it never answers the implicit question: Why was this movie made?


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