Harry is funny, but not good or appealing. He is self-indulgent and repetitive. His friends and family see these flaws, and most of them abandon him. What keeps the film from seeming entirely tragic is that Harry's characters, at least, appreciate him. In the final sequence, they mill around his apartment and thank him for his efforts. "You've given me some of the happiest moments of my life. You've even saved my life at times," Harry says to them. Art has made his depressing personal life somewhat meaningful.
That last scene of Deconstructing Harry would have made a fitting final beat to Allen's career—what does public opinion about Soon-Yi Previn matter to someone who created Harry Bloch, Sandy Bates, and Alvy Singer? Since then he's released 14 feature-length films, a lifetime's output for many writer-directors, and notwithstanding my commitment to Allen's films, I'm with the majority in deeming these rather careless imitations of his earlier works. It's not just that Allen is posing the same questions—he's now repeating the same answers. 2005's Match Point, considered by some a return to form, knocks off the guiltless murder ending from Crimes and Misdemeanors and tries to compensate for the sense of déjà vu, and for the weaker actors, with more sex. It's a bad trade-off.
Because I've already invested so much time into Allen's films, I'll keep making my annual pilgrimage without regard to quality, holding out for the possibility of a swan song. At his latest, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, I saw a hint of a way forward in the plotlines dedicated to Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones), who worry about senescence and death not simply because these are facts of life, but because, like their creator, they've reached old age. A film that broaches the regular lot of preoccupations from the deathbed perspective rather than the needlessly-anxious-middle-age one could—here's hoping—bring poignancy back to the Woody Allen experience.
Click here for my ranking of Woody Allen's films. Click here for a video slide show of the scenes discussed in this essay.