April 09, 2020

‘Harry’ Allen’s angriest> Method of deconstruciton makes film worth seeing

“Deconstructing Harry,” written and directed by Woody Allen. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated R (for strong language, sexuality and adult content). Nightly, Jan. 5-15, Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville.

Imagine, if you will, Woody Allen as a pathological narcissist.

Imagine him as a neurotic womanizer who drinks bourbon straight from the bottle, pops a plethora of potent pills, screws around on his many wives and his many girlfriends, lies to his friends and to his relatives, kidnaps his son in an effort to satisfy his own ego, has an affair with his wife’s sister, swears like the proverbial sailor and sleeps with prostitutes because he finds the businesslike collaboration of flesh upon flesh far easier than actually committing to any one person.

That Allen pulls all of this off is not particularly surprising when you consider the ongoing turmoil in his private life and also the recent news that his former wife, Mia Farrow, is now, of all things, his mother-in-law. That development alone could have pushed anyone into an emotional abyss, but for Allen, the ire of it — coupled with the years of aforementioned turmoil — have instead propelled him to create his angriest and most personal film since 1980’s “Stardust Memories.”

“Deconstructing Harry” is about Harry Block (Allen), a loathsome, self-hating, self-involved and oversexed Manhattan novelist who lives only to satisfy himself — a character flaw that proves to cause him much grief as the film unfolds.

Indeed, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in Harry’s life he hasn’t offended. In his thinly disguised novels, he describes his sister Doris (Caroline Aaron) as “Jewish with a vengeance”; his three ex-wives as ridiculous whores; and exposes in his most recent novel an illicit affair he once had with his former sister-in-law Lucy (Judy Davis), who nearly kills him as a result.

“In this little sewer of an apartment you take everyone’s suffering and turn it into gold!” Lucy screams at him while pulling a loaded gun from her purse. “Literary gold!” Bang, bang, bang.

What makes Allen’s film worth seeing isn’t just the sharp writing, the big laughs, the bizarre fantasy sequences or the editing, which keenly suggests Harry’s emotional fragmentation through a prolonged series of rapid jump-cuts, but the way Allen moves toward a final deconstruction of himself. This is, after all, a film about a man who cannot love, which Allen has been revealing about himself in film since 1977’s “Annie Hall.”

And if we are to consider that his career since that film has been a form of deconstruction — in that he has chosen the vehicle of films to take long, cinematic looks into himself — then at the end of this film we finally learn through the shrewd eyes of his characters the answer to what lies dormant beneath his considerable neuroses: That’s right — happiness.

Grade: A-

Video of the Week

“Waiting for Guffman,” directed by Christopher Guest. Written by Guest and Eugene Levy. Running time: 84 minutes. Rated R (for language and adult content).

Christopher Guest, co-writer of 1984’s “This is Spinal Tap,” brings us another spoof, this time a very funny “documentary” about Blaine, Mo.

Blaine is known for three things: its fancy footstools, which led to the the city being trumpeted as the “stool capital of America”; the “fact” that most of the town’s population was abducted by aliens in 1946; and that a band of settlers looking to live on the West Coast pitched their tents in Blaine 150 years ago when they “smelled the salt water.”

Now, for its sesquicentennial anniversary celebration, Blaine is gearing up to showcase its accomplishments in a theatrical production to be directed by Corky St. Clair (Guest), a prissy, closeted gay man who left Broadway to bring his “significant, ornate magic” to Blaine.

Most of the town turns out for the show’s auditions, but only a certain few have that “special bit of glamorous something” that Corky needs to make “Red, White … and Blaine” a triumphant success. There’s Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey), a young, enthusiastic Dairy Queen server who enchants Corky with a saucy rendition of “Teacher’s Pet”; Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara), two travel agents who have never left Blaine — and who share a dirty surgical secret; and Dr. Allan Pearl (Eugene Levy), a local dentist whose lazy eye isn’t quite as strong — or as bright — as his significant teeth.

Tension mounts when Corky declares that a certain Mr. Guffman, who is a well-known New York producer, will be coming to the show to see if “Red, White … and Blaine” would be suited for Broadway. In a film that skewers small-town America with its dry, brutal wit, imagine the high-maintenance fuss that ensues when the town tries to rise to greatness in an effort to land itself on the map.

Grade: B plus

Christopher Smith, a writer and critic who lives in Brewer, reviews films each Monday in the NEWS.

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