Movie Review – When Harry Met Sally…

Principal Cast : Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky, Michelle Nicastro, Kevin Rooney, Harley Kozak.
Synopsis:  Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship.

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The granddaddy of the 80’s romantic comedy genre, Rob Reiner’s iconic classic set in New York and starring two of the 80’s biggest names, When Harry Met Sally is as pertinently romantic now as it was at the time it was released. It’s unashamedly cheesy at times, a testament to the big-screen’s joy of love, contains a number of intriguing statements to say about the relationship between men and women (and sex, let’s face it), while the film’s feminine genesis and masculine direction not only combine brilliantly but overcome potential genre pitfalls with nuance, care and sublime grace.

Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) share a car ride from Chicago to New York City, where Harry demonstrates a rather misogynistic view of the relationships between men and women – famously stating that men and women cannot be friends because the sex gets in the way – which forms the basis of their on-again, off-again relationship down the years. Over the next decade, the pair meet up through circumstance, having variously dated, married and divorced other people alongside best friends Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby), all trying to work out their interpersonal lives whilst convinced a relationship between them cannot work. Eventually, Harry and Sally have sex, which leads to a far more complicated relationship level than either had expected or prepared for. Naturally, love conquers all (I mean, this is a movie, right?) in time, and Harry and Sally have to face up to the realisation that despite their differences (and there are a  lot of differences) they each may just be the best reason for them to stick together.

Arguably America’s greatest romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally turned Meg Ryan into Hollywood’s new “It” girl and gave us one of the all-time great lines of dialogue – delivered by the director’s mother, no less. Meg Ryan’s innocent, girl-next-door look and enthusiastic performance style made her an instant star, alongside Mr Hollywood himself, Billy Crystal. Written by Norah Ephron (she snagged her second Oscar nomination for writing here, following 1983’s Silkwood, and would garner a third for Sleepless In Seattle) the film tackles themes of fidelity, sexuality, sexual freedom and the inalienable differences between men and women – you know, Mars and Venus and all that – in a manner that’s both heartwarming and delicate at the same time. Bookended by “interviews” with long-time married couples, who each expand on the core of the film’s ideologies, When Harry Met Sally spans over a decade of the life of the two central characters, as they meet, hate each other, fall for other people, separate and eventually find each other.

It’s the eponymous meet-cute of cinema, dissecting love and sex (and the fine line between them) betwixt sparkling dialogue and the effortless chemistry between the two leads. Ephron’s writing is impeccable, a charming modern take on romance, almost subverting the very genre of the movie, with both Ryan and Crystal epitomising 80’s angst so acutely you can almost feel the shoulderpads. Sally’s stuck-up snobbery (admit it, she is a bit in love with herself) and Harry’s chauvinistic arrogance towards dating ensure sparks fly between them, despite the travails of distance and time making their romance a sputtering, inconclusive thing to start with. It’s through this gradual, glacial time spent with each other that their feelings become fully fleshed out, their attraction to each other inevitable, and their affection more genuine.

As with most films of this genre, it all hangs on the actors. The writing can be great but if the chemistry between the leads isn’t there the whole thing falls apart. Although skirting dangerously close to Hallmark Movie standards of sentimental romanticism, When Harry Met Sally’s dynamite duo of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, each capable of holding a film together on their own, are a magnetic, effective, absolutely golden standard of on-screen romantic pairings. Ryan’s work as Sally is as bubbly and frothy as any of the genre’s icons, while Crystal’s brilliant ability to patter is absolutely on-point. Carrie Fisher’s best friend role is as snarky as it needs to be, while Bruno Kirby’s ineptly un-romantic Jesse remains the film’s MVP in my estimation. Kirby’s reaction to Crystal’s assertion that he made a woman mewl like a cat is priceless.

Of course, the film meets all the criteria of a romantic comedy, what with it’s many moments that have become iconic; Sally’s orgasmic lunch with Harry inside a New York restaurant, in which a fellow patron remarks about having a similarly pleasurable meal, is perhaps the greatest screen moment of that decade (alongside Vader’s paternal reveal), while the hilarious four-way phone conversations between Harry, Sally, Marie and Jess epitomise the kitschy 80’s vibe of technological datedness. There’s multiple classic lines: “you made a woman meow?”, “I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.”, Rob Reiner’s delightful photography of classic New York locations, and Marc Shaiman’s delicate orchestral score (and Harry Connick Jr’s dulcet and oh-so-romantic vocals) that add up to produce a film that’s not only a product of its time, but a product that stands the test of time by remaining.. well, timeless. Personified by the couples interviewed within the film, love is timeless indeed and When Harry Met Sally’s prosaic romance is itself as iconic as the characters within it. Even the hardest of hearts would have trouble disliking this movie, let alone the wonderful characters and writing within it.

© 2018, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.