The genesis of entertainment that’s based on single people trying in desperation to date in the confines of the concrete jungle of New York City may very well be the 1989 quintessential rom-com “When Harry met Sally.”
Created by film-making guru Rob Reiner, “When Harry met Sally” stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as the titular couple, and the pair match perfectly together in an opposites attract sort of way.
Lauded by fans and critics alike, writer Nora Ephron conjures what could be one of the best romantic comedies one will find, and one of the first to wear the rom-com title like a badge of honor.
The movie begins in Chicago in 1977 as carefree Harry Burns (Crystal) meets the friend of his latest sexual fling, Sally Albright (Ryan). The pair have agreed to split the wheel on an 18-hour road trip to New York City where they will both be residing.
The opening scene in itself is a thing of beauty as we get to know Harry and Sally in a matter of minutes, with Harry uncouthly munching on a fistful of grapes, spitting seeds out the window as the uptight Sally looks on in revulsion.
Harry asks Sally to give him the story of her life to which the bookishly boring woman replies with something the viewer could have probably guessed themselves already; “The story of my life wont even get us out of Chicago.”
“When Harry met Sally” boasts hysterical and perfect dialogue from start to finish, as Harry and Sally banter back and forth in a fluid and Seinfeld like way – in a pre-Seinfeld era.
Billy Crystal is brilliant as Harry Burns. At first, one may find him an unusual choice for a rom-com heartthrob but a handful of minutes into the story and you’ll see why no one else could have been chosen for the part. “When I buy a book I read the last page first.” Harry explains to Sally just minutes after meeting her for the very first time. “That way if I die before I finish I know how it ends.” Quotable lines are uttered at every corner and I would guess Jerry Seinfeld would cite Billy Crystal as one of his comic influences.
Likewise, Meg Ryan is the ideal female counterpart who, despite the obvious chemistry between the two, resists all temptations to progress past just being friends. Meg Ryan appeared in a handful of 80s movies but the role of Sally Albright is her breakout performance and with good reason.
The movie follows Harry and Sally’s random interactions over the next dozen years. Upon reaching New York they part with the all business words of “Have a nice life” thinking they will never see the other again. When they do meet by chance five years later, its obvious both have spent at least some thinking about the other.
As the relationship between Harry and Sally goes from strangers to friends, we watch as the pair grows up, each dealing with failed romances and relying on the other for emotional support. Harry’s initial mantra is that men and women can’t be friends due to the fact that the man always wants to sleep with the woman, which is pretty much true. Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby play the standard best friends of each, offering advice on dating throughout.
Rob Reiner does a masterful job of keeping the viewer hooked on a seemingly dull plot; following two platonic friends in a will they/won’t they relationship.
Reiner employs great devices such as a split screen depicting each Harry and Sally conversing on the telephone and what happens immediately after hanging up. The changing seasons in New York City are a thing of beauty as we watch Harry and Sally stroll through Central Park amidst a backdrop of Autumn foliage and the lights and decor of Christmas and New Year’s. And the run time of 96 minutes is flat out perfect – something directors of today’s era should take note of.
“When Harry met Sally” is a staple of the romantic comedy genre, and well deserved. Its funny and entertaining, and a great film that can be enjoyed by all.
by – Matt Christopher