Self-loathing is an emotion Woody Allen probably pulls off better than anyone else in American film—who else could skewer his own writing as deeply as his character does in "Manhattan"? Who else would write himself a role as sadly pathetic as in "Crimes and Misdemeanors"? And though he can be criticized for "always getting the girl," whether that girl be Mariel Hemingway or Elizabeth Shue, there has always been an honesty to his work, an underbelly that is almost uncomfortable to watch.
"Deconstructing Harry," then, may be the most skinless, painful, nerve-exposing story by Woody Allen yet—and guess what?—it's damn near perfect. At no other point in his oeuvre (or anyone else's for that matter) has he blurred the line between Artist and Art to such a transparent degree.
There are so many characters to this story that it gets confusing in the retelling; suffice to say that Allen plays a writer who is cursed to have no genuine feelings for anybody except the characters he has created. The "real-life" actors (Amy Irving, Judy Davis, Eric Bogosian, Kirstie Alley, etc.) serve as dopplegangers for their "fictional" counterparts (Demi Moore, Julia Louise-Dreyfuss, Robin Williams, Tobey Maguire, etc.) in a half-real, half-fantasy smorgasbord of swooping storylines that meld effortlessly between the two worlds. Some of the stories are brillliant (Robin Williams plays an actor who is literally out-of-focus, both career-wise, AND on-screen), some are terribly funny (Billy Crystal appears both in fact and fiction as the Devil who steals the only girl Allen ever loved), but the episodic nature of the vignettes add up to more than the sum of its parts.
Woody Allen's movies have always been more "process" than "goal"-oriented; it's not where he's taking you, it's how he's getting you there. At times, it seems as though he's using the film medium itself to atone for his own life of sins; at times he's using it as a bully pulpit to get back at every needle-nosed gogglebox who has judged his life without knowing who he really was. Or maybe this is still all fiction, and we all read into a brilliant movie like this what we take into it. Either way, it's an epiphanous therapy session where we win regardless. Long live Allen's self-loathing, if this is what we get for it.
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