[Screen It]


(1997) (Woody Allen, Kirstie Alley) (R)

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Comedy: A neurotic writer tries to come to grips with his writer's block, his obsession with sex, and the various people in his life both past and present.
Harry Block (WOODY ALLEN) is a late middle-aged writer of novels and short stories that are based on his own life experiences. Suffering from writers' block, he's neurotically worried about that, his obsession with sex, his three wives, and the six "shrinks" he's been through. Having recently been invited to accept a lifetime achievement award from a small college, Harry is nervous that he won't have anyone to accompany him to the ceremony. He'd like his last girlfriend, Fay (ELIZABETH SHUE), to go, but she's just announced that she's getting married to his best friend, Larry (BILLY CRYSTAL). He'd also like his son Hilly (ERIC LLOYD) to be with him, but Joan (KIRSTIE ALLEY), Harry's former psychiatrist and ex-wife, won't allow it.

He eventually ends up driving to Adair College with Hilly as well as another friend, Richard (BOB BALABAN) who has a heart condition, and Cookie (HAZELLE GOODMAN), a prostitute with whom he's recently become acquainted. Along the way they stop and see his half sister, Doris (CAROLINE AARON) and her husband, Burt (ERIC BOGOSIAN) who don't like Harry due to his distaste in their beliefs in the Jewish religion. We also see various symbolic characters from dramatizations of different periods of his life. As Harry interacts with the many people (both real and imagined), he tries to come to grips with his many current and past life experiences.

Unless they're fans of Allen's films, it's not very likely.
For strong language and some sexuality.
  • WOODY ALLEN plays a character who admits that he's done many bad things in his life: Had affairs, drank too much, took too many pills, slept with whores (his words), lied, was cowardly, vain, etc... While he's rather old to be considered as a role model, his character probably isn't the best that parents could imagine.
  • The rest of the cast play parts ranging from minor to cameo and thus don't have much time to make an impression. Of the notable actors (to kids) in this film, however, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (of TV's "Seinfeld") is involved in a sexual scene and Billy Crystal plays the Devil in another for those who may be concerned about such things.


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    Film maker Woody Allen has long had a reputation for creating unique motion pictures. Whether he writes, directs, or stars in them, his releases are always highly anticipated events among his fans. Appealing to the more intellectual set than the standard movie going audience, his films are often accepted by critics, but not by mainstream moviegoers who often grow tired of his trademark neurotic behavior routine. With 12 Academy Award nominations, however for writing (2 were winners), 6 nominations for directing (1 was a winner) and 1 for acting (for 1977's "Annie Hall") there's certainly enough proof that he's probably the most recognized auteur in the business. Almost always shooting in New York and having complete control over his work, Allen is free to deliver films that other film makers probably couldn't, and that many studios wouldn't dare attempt.

    He's not hurt by the fact that nearly every actor and actress wants to be in his productions, and this film is no exception. Featuring a cornucopia of stars past and present, we're entertained by the likes of Kirstie Alley, Richard Benjamin, Billy Crystal, Judy Davis, Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Demi Moore, Elisabeth Shue, and Robin Williams among many others. You many wonder how all of those people fit into a movie that's just over an hour and a half in length. The answer is that most of them arrive in small roles, some of which are nearly just glorified cameos.

    They are used in their short time on screen, however, in quite humorous and clever ways. Throughout the film we're treated to short dramatizations of the main character's literary creations, all of which are based on his life or those of others he knew. Thus we get to see various stages of Harry's life that, of course, are really just symbolic of Allen's own life growing up. As in many of his other films, Allen focuses on his own insecurities through his characters doing the same, and those fears and worries zero in on the standard Allen collection of religion, sex, love and divorce.

    Obviously your appreciation and/or enjoyment of this film will highly depend on whether you like Allen's standard neurotic shtick. Pretty much playing the same guy he has in most of his other movies, Allen portrays himself through his characters as quite the lady's man with an even more abundant sex life. This film is surprisingly rather "mature" in that field, even for an Allen film, and some of the material may be a bit strong for his more casual fans. Examples of that include an oral sex scene involving Julia Louis-Dreyfus (from TV's "Seinfeld") as well as a scene featuring naked women chained to the walls of Hell.

    Viewers should remember, though, that this is the same guy who recently made "Mighty Aphrodite" (a man's "rehabilitative" efforts with a hooker), and of course the infamous "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask" (1972) where he played several characters, including one who was a sperm. Additionally, all of the material is played for laughs, but obviously the interpretation of humor involving such material certainly lies with the individual viewer some will find it brilliantly funny, while others might find it distasteful.

    There are other funny bits apart from Allen's routine, including a brilliant piece featuring Robin Williams. Playing an actor on a film set, his director is mad that something's wrong with the camera that makes him look out of focus. That is, until they realize that Williams himself is really out of focus. Using some fun special effects, the gag is quite hilarious and fortunately kept brief so as not to outwear its welcome. Other creatively fun bits include a young Allen getting his comeuppance for lying about his identity when Death comes knocking at his door, as well as a scene where Allen takes an elevator down to Hell ("This floor...lawyers who appear on TV").

    Other segments, though, sometimes feel a bit long and just downright strange. A bar mitzvah scene, for instance, that features waiters and band members wearing storm trooper helmets straight from "Star Wars," is something you'd more expect to find in a Mel Brooks film than one by Allen. For the most part, however, the material is rather funny, and Allen ties all of it up in a tidy package as his character eventually finds the self-redemption for which he was looking. Overall, this is one of Allen's funnier films of recent, and his die-hard fans will undoubtedly love it. Whether it manages to find a wider audience is questionable, but at this point in his career (and for most of his career for that matter), Allen doesn't really care. He just wants to make his own films and entertain his core audience, and he certainly succeeds with this film. We give "Deconstructing Harry" a 7.5 out of 10.

    Parents may find some categories in this film to be rather objectionable. There are several sexual encounters, including one that doesn't show nudity but is rather explicit with movement, sounds, and the heavy inference of oral sex. The others are milder, although all of them (particularly the first) may embarrass or offend some viewers. There's also a great deal of sexual dialogue, along with the fact that the main character enjoys the company of prostitutes and hires one in this film. Another scene, set in Hell, shows many nude women chained to walls. Of course, this being a Woody Allen film, most of the material is played for laughs, and some of it is diffused by the humor. Whether you see it that way depends on your beliefs and/or what you find funny.

    Likewise, Allen's usual analysis of religious beliefs (including his own) may rub some people the wrong way. Beyond that, there are nearly 50 "f" words, along with an assortment of other profanities and "colorful" phrases. Allen drinks and takes pills throughout the film, and a character smokes pot in one scene. While it's doubtful many kids will want to see this film, others in your home may want to. Due to the rather "mature" subject matter, we strongly suggest that you examine the content to determine whether this movie is appropriate for you or anyone in your family.

  • Several people have beers at an outdoor cookout.
  • Harry drinks liquor in many different scenes while also taking some sort of prescription pills.
  • Two fictitious characters have wine.
  • Fay has wine while talking with Harry.
  • Cookie smokes a joint and offers it to Harry who declines.
  • Two women have drinks.
  • People have drinks at a bar mitzvah.
  • In hell and playing the part of the Devil, Larry drinks a martini and pours Harry some liquor.
  • None.
  • Due to the subjective nature of the following material, individual viewers may differ with our "heavy" rating of it, and one should remember that most of it's played for laughs.
  • Ken and Leslie (representing Harry and his sister-in-law) have an affair, and continue to have sex in one scene in front of a blind, elderly woman (played for laughs).
  • Harry takes his real life relationship experiences, barely changes the names of the people involved, and then writes novels and short stories about them, usually slamming those people and their behavior.
  • Harry (in the guise of several fictitious characters) has affairs with different women while married to others.
  • Harry comments that he can't ever look at a woman without wondering what it would be like to have sex with her, and he "buys" the services of a prostitute.
  • A fictitious character tells another one (representing Harry at a young age) that it's okay to have sex with a prostitute even if you're married. He then tells the young man he's got one for him and where to take her.
  • Some viewers may not like the Devil, Death, and Hell (complete with comically tortured souls) appearing in the movie and/or being used for laughs.
  • Likewise, others may not like Harry's comments on religion in general (he says he's an atheist) or about Jews and Judaism (about which he makes wry comments although he's Jewish himself). He tells one person, "You're like a born again Christian (meaning in a bad way), but Jewish." A fictitious Jewish character is portrayed as wacky in one sequence where she prays over anything and everything. He also comments that religion is like exclusionary clubs "telling you who you should hate."
  • Larry (who's white) tells Fay, "I'm single, available, and I have the soul of a black man."
  • Larry (as the Devil) asks Harry, "Did you ever f*ck a blind girl?" Harry says he hasn't and Larry condescendingly says, "They're so grateful."
  • If for some reason very young kids are allowed to see this film, scenes with Death (as a hooded figure) and others showing Hell bathed in fire and brimstone may scare them. Of course they're played for laughs and most adults won't find them remotely frightening.
  • Handgun: A comically despondent woman holds a gun to her head, and moments later points it at Harry (blaming her problems on him) and fires several shots at him.
  • Phrases: "Schmuck," "Bastard," "Blow job," "Shut up," "Putz," "Whores," "Bang," Banging" "Bugger" and "Buggered" (for sex), "Tight ass," "Geez," "Screwed up," "Nuts" (crazy), "Jack ass," and "Bitch" (from a woman toward another woman).
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 49 "f" words (12 used sexually, 3 used with "mother"), 13 "s" words, 5 slang terms for sex ("bang," "banging," "bugger," and "buggered"), 5 slang terms for female genitals (the "c" and "p" words along with "beaver"), 1 slang term for male genitals (the "p" word), 5 hells, 3 asses (1 using "hole"), 1 S.O.B., and 7 uses of "God," 5 uses of "Jesus," 4 uses of "Oh Jesus," 3 uses each of "G-damn" and "Oh God," 2 uses of "My God" and 1 use each of "For Christ's sakes" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • The following is played for laughs and not eroticism. Nonetheless, it occurs as described:
  • Ken and Leslie passionately kiss during an affair. He feels her clothed breasts and she then performs oral sex on him (not explicitly seen, but we see her head at his crotch). There are also some comments on her "using" her teeth. Moments later he's behind her having sex (we don't see any nudity, but do see rather explicit movement and hear sexual sounds). She then says, "You can come anytime you want," and then an elderly blind woman arrives in the room. Unaware of what they're doing, she talks to both while Ken continues his movement until he's finished.
  • A passage is read from one of Harry's books that mentions a man grabbing a woman's breasts and then "mounting her from behind."
  • A woman brings up the fact that Harry convinced her to give him a "blow job at my father's funeral."
  • Harry comments that he can't ever look at a woman without wondering what it would be like to have sex with her.
  • A fictitious character tells another one, Harvey (representing Harry at a young age) that it's okay to have sex with a prostitute even if you're married. He then tells the young man he's got one for him and where to take her.
  • We then see Harvey in bed with a prostitute and she's first seen performing oral sex on him (under the covers with the act not explicitly seen) and then on top of him having sex with movement and sounds (but no nudity).
  • Hilly (the young boy) asks his dad, Harry, "Why doesn't my penis look like yours?" He's referring to circumcision and Harry then goes on to say that when he was a kid he and his friends named their genitals. Hilly then says he's going to name his Dillinger.
  • A fictitious character says his desire is to see his psychiatrist "tied up and with other women."
  • A scene where a fictitious Jewish character (played by Demi Moore) is comically mocked for praying over anything and everything has her preying over a man's crotch before oral sex (we see nothing explicit).
  • Harry tells Cookie (a prostitute), "I want you to tie me up, hit me a little bit...and a blow job." After they're finished (nothing's seen), he tells her, "They should put your lips in the Smithsonian."
  • Harry, referring to the astronomical phenomenon, asks Cookie (who's black), "Do you know what a black hole is?" She replies, "Yeah, that's how I make my living."
  • We see a great deal of Cookie's cleavage.
  • Harry travels to Hell itself and we see many nude women chained to the walls or in "hot tubs," and see bare breasts and bare butts (of women and men).
  • None.
  • Harry and Joan argue about visitation rights concerning Hilly, and in a later scene, Harry "kidnaps" Hilly to go along with him for his awards ceremony (the boy doesn't struggle and seemingly wants to go along).
  • Harry is thrice divorced and there are several scenes where the women from his past & present fight with him over their problems.
  • Harry's obsession with sex and his use of prostitutes (for older teens and regarding AIDS, etc...)
  • The point that the movie finally gets around to stating, "Except your limitations (and) get on with your life."
  • A woman in a fictitious story tells of learning that her husband killed four people with an ax and then ate them (none of which we see).
  • A comically distraught woman holds a gun to her head and then decides to aim it at Harry. She fires several shots at him, but misses.
  • Joan starts to choke Harry after learning of his affair, but is interrupted when a patient of hers enters the room.

  • Reviewed December 5, 1997

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