Deconstructing Harry is Woody Allen's 27th movie in 29 years; the guy is like a machine. Even during his annus horribilis, he showed up for work every day, ready to forge his life into art. The relationship between Allen's bio and his autobio--i.e., his films--has always been a slippery one. (He warned us about Soon-Yi as far back as Manhattan.) But Deconstructing Harry suggests the relationship isn't so slippery after all. Allen doesn't really have a life, the movie seems to say; he only has his art. If that. For Deconstructing Harry only works in bits and pieces. Then again, maybe it's supposed to work in bits and pieces. Allen takes his title seriously, and the movie immediately sets about deconstructing Harry Block (Allen), a famous writer whose art feeds on his life in a way that leaves his loved ones hungry for revenge. "You take everybody's suffering and turn it into gold--literary gold," his former sister-in-law (Judy Davis) screams at him during the movie's opening set piece. They'd had an affair, which went right into Harry's next book, the names altered only slightly. One way or another, everyone seems wild about Harry; they either want to kiss him or kill him. And Harry appears to feel the same way about himself. Like Allen, he's turned self-loathing into a form of self-love. (What the two have in common is self-absorption.) "You expect the world to adjust to the distortion you've become," Harry's own psychiatrist tells him. Harry agrees, but does admitting it make it forgivable? It doesn't have to, for Harry forgives himself in a grand finale where all his fictional characters, many of whom we've met in dramatizations of Harry's fiction, gather around him and applaud. The capital-T theme is that Harry is great at art, lousy at life, but for this to mean very much vis-à-vis Allen's art and life, Deconstructing Harry would have to be a great movie. I regret to say it's not. A fragmented, disjointed mess, it deconstructs not just Harry but itself. Maybe it's supposed to. Then again, maybe not.
Either way, it's frenetically dull, though more sexually frank than a Henry Miller novel. "Try not to actually chew," Richard Benjamin tells Julia Louis-Dreyfus while receiving an impromptu blow job. Deconstructing Harry is Woody Allen giving himself an impromptu blow job--the blow job transmuted into "art" through lots and lots of chafing.