Tuesday, November 13, 2012
When Harry Met Sally...
When Harry Met Sally…
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Back in my college days, I lived in a suite. Of girls. At one point, there were 8 of us sharing very cramped quarters. Despite the inevitable drama (there was one vicious knock down fight over – get this – cake frosting), there was also a LOT of romantic comedy-watching. A LOT. It was pretty much the only genre of film that was ever on our tiny little television. I think it was during this phase of my life that I started to see the cracks in the genre due to my overexposure to it. I also distinctly remember watching When Harry Met Sally… during that time in my life and starting to see just how great a romcom it is.
Harry (Crystal) needs a ride to New York from Chicago, and Sally (Ryan) has a car. They’ve never met, but they share a contentious cross country trip then part ways. Five years later, they bump into one another on a plane trip and continue to bicker, then part ways again. Five years later AGAIN, they meet up, but this time, become friends. And, because this is a romantic comedy, the friendship starts to build and evolve into something more.
The two central characters need to work in order for the film to work, and blessedly, they do. When I rewatched this, at first I was offput by Crystal’s Harry. In the beginning of the film, he’s a real asshole. Full of himself, stubborn, convinced he has all the answers. I started to wince a little, thinking that I had somehow misjudged the film initially; was I really going to have to watch a movie where such a jerk is the romantic hero? No. Harry’s character changes over the film, and by the time we get to the point where he becomes a serious romantic possibility for Sally, he has mellowed with time, gotten softer, less harsh, more palatable. He bluntly apologizes to her in one scene about comments he made earlier. It’s a nice evolution.
My favorite performance, though, is Meg Ryan’s portrayal of Sally. Perhaps it’s because I’m turning 33 this year, but the fact that Sally is close to my age, I felt a great connection with her character. I like how Ryan metamorphosed Sally from an overly confident, snobbish 21-year-old, a girl who thinks she has everything figured out, to a confident yet slightly demoralized 31-year-old woman. The older Sally can admit that yeah, maybe she doesn’t have any idea what she’s doing. She is most certainly strong-minded and quirky, but she has also calmed down over time, mellowing with age just like Harry.
Nora Ephron’s script is fantastic. There are so many great quippy lines, eminently quotable. “Helen Hillson, she’s a lawyer, she’s keeping her name,” all delivered in response to the question “Who is she?” makes me giggle. “Baby Fish Mouth!” is a classic example of the verbal diarrhea that comes from playing any “blurt it out” game. Beyond the one-liners, though, Ephron laid the groundwork for a generation of relationship standards. The way Harry talks about relationships (“I never pick a woman up from the airport,” “Men and women can never be friends,” “Do you still sleep on the same side of the bed?”, “You’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance,” “Oh, I went to bed with her”) spawned nearly every “single in the city” movie or television show that came after it in the nineties. There are shades of Seinfeld’s view on relationships here, as well as Sex In the City’s. I won’t be as ostentatious as to claim that those two shows are direct offspring of this film, but they are, at the very least, distant cousins.
A nice little touch that I love from Ephron’s scripts is her allusion to classic Hollywood (An Affair to Remember in Sleepless in Seattle, The Godfather in You’ve Got Mail). In this film, the big one that is discussed is the relationship between Rick, Ilsa, and Victor Laszlo in Casablanca; a worthy choice, there’s a lot to talk about there. There’s another one, though, one that made me smile in how small and offhand it was, and yet it was definitely there. Did you miss it? Sally corrects Marie (Fisher) when Marie misquotes Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes when they are in Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers. Having now seen these classic films, I like it when a movie is referential to “those that came before it.”
New York City is my favorite city in the world. Granted, I haven’t done a lot of travelling so that might not be saying much, but I have been to NYC several times and I never get tired of it. When Harry Met Sally… is a fantastic Manhattan movie. Rob Reiner clearly loves New York City as well, because he shows us a gorgeous, glorious, beautiful Manhattan here, bathed in amber sunlight. This is a romantic comedy, so we are never shown dark, gritty, dangerous Manhattan, but I think I’m okay with that. Romantic comedies are, fundamentally, modern fairy tales, so it makes sense to set them in fantasy lands. Harry Connick Jr.’s soundtrack of classic standards helps to reinforce the idealized world of the film. (And really, if you want to talk fantasy land, look no further than Harry’s ridiculously spacious loft apartment.)
I love a good drama. It’s probably my favorite genre of film. But every now and then, I just want to watch two people fall in love and have a happy ending guaranteed. Every now and then, I want to get emotionally invested without being punched in a gut by a film. Every now and then, I want to turn my brain off just a little and be entertained. When Harry Met Sally… fulfills all of those desires. It’s great, it’s funny, it’s smart, it’s entertaining. It works. It’s easily one of the finest romantic comedies ever made.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10