Mentioning ‘Waiting for Godot’ early on, Woody Allen tells us a great deal about the impossible character he sets about describing, so deeply ingrained are his faults and neuroses that it is impossible for the titular Harry Block (played by Allen) to ever receive anything other than a bittersweet ending. He cheats on his wives (three in total) and speaks of the joys sex with the handicapped and prostitutes with a glee that is far from redeemable, but the vast amount of time spent developing him as a character means that we are not completely incapable of feeling for him; you may not like him, but you’ll sure as hell love him.
Told for the most part through vignettes (largely involving Allen’s character) we are told about Block through the people he has created. In the first real scene of the piece we see Louise (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) perform oral sex on her brother-in-law Ken (Richard Benjamin) before Louise’s blind relative walks in and Ken staggers to finish. It is immediately after that we learn what has earned Harry the hatred of the greater New York area, he writes a hyperbolized version of reality; and Lucy (Judy Davis) is non too happy that he chose to reveal their affair in such a manner.
The central plot itself involves Block driving cross-country to receive an honour from the college that had previously expelled him with his ”kidnapped” son Hilliard, a prostitute named Cookie (Hazelle Goodman) and an acquaintance, Richard (Bob Balaban).
Allen is himself reveling in his own life, pushing it to a new level of emotional resonance he has rarely granted to the male leads in his former works. Even the supporting characters so vividly mimic one another that’s impossible not to delight in the depth of similarities they share. The parallels are truly striking, with the outfits worn by the fictional psychiatrist turned wife (played by Demi Moore) identical to those worn by the real-life counterpart (Kirstie Alley).
The women in the cast shine as brightly as ever, with Allen proving that yet again he can bring the best out of his actors. Elisabeth Shue shows a sensitivity and depth that’s are unexpected for such a rarely featured character. Alley takes such pleasure in verbalising her hatred you would almost believe that she’s personally enjoying it and Moore illustrates a comedic timing never before seen (though watching a woman with an image like hers perform Jewish rituals is an interesting sight gag within itself). However it is the time he gives to his own character that delineates this from the majority of his other works, the story itself being so simple that the vignettes develop Harry rather than the story, yet never damaging the overall pacing or overcomplicating proceedings (a coup in itself considering the multi-level storytelling employed with this same technique). He knows that there can be no clear or storybook ending for such a man but battles forward to prove that there is humanity in everyone, even someone such as this.
`Why can’t I function in life? I only function in art.’, a poignant retort considering what Woody has now become more famous for than his recent creative output. Well despite his personal life, we’re reminded that at one time or another, he was a real artist.