Directed by Rob Reiner
Written by Nora Ephron
Cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld
Release Date: July 14, 1989
Running Time: 1hr 35min
[Possible spoilers. But this is a 30+ year old romantic comedy. I’m sure most can guess the outcome.]
In 1977 Harry Burns (Crystal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) graduate from the University of Chicago and share the drive to New York City, where Sally is beginning journalism school and Harry is starting a career in political writing. Harry has been dating Sally’s friend Amanda, which is why he agrees to drive her along to New York. It’s obvious from the start that the two are very different; with Harry looking more on the negative side of life, while Sally is more optimistic.
Over dinner, Harry makes an off handed remark about Sally being attractive, which she takes offense to since he’s seeing her friend. He says there’s nothing wrong with pointing out that he finds her attractive. [I do agree with this to some degree. You can point out someone is attractive without wanting to date sleep with them. Mind you, Harry was probably making a mild pass.] He then declares that men and women can never be friends because guys would only ever want to have sex with them, and that if they have sex it’ll ruin the friendship. Once they make it to New York, they part ways and assume they won’t see each other ever again.
Five years later, Harry and Sally find themselves on the same airplane flight. Sally is dating Harry’s neighbor Joe (played by Steven Ford, son of former US Vice President turned President Gerald Ford), and Harry is engaged to Helen, which surprises Sally. Harry suggests they become friends, forcing him to qualify his previous position about the impossibility of male-female friendships. They separate, concluding that they will not be friends.
Another five years pass, Sally tells her best friend Marie (Fisher) that she and Joe broke up, while Harry tells his best friend Jess (Kirby) that Helen has left him for someone else (while they’re at a baseball game). Soon after, Harry and Sally see each other at a book store and reconnect and decide to become friends. They have late-night phone conversations, go to dinner, and discuss their love lives with each other. Can these two be just friends? Well, it is a romantic comedy, so I’m sure you can guess where this goes.
Columbia Pictures released When Harry Met Sally… in select cities, letting word of mouth generate interest, before gradually expanding distribution. The film earned a bit over $93 million against a $16 million budget in North America, and was released to critical acclaim. Ephron received a British Academy Film Award, an Oscar nomination, and a Writers Guild of America Award nomination for her screenplay. The film is ranked 23rd on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list of the top comedy films in American cinema and number 60 on Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies”. In early 2004, the film was adapted for the stage in a production starring Luke Perry and Alyson Hannigan.
I don’t remember when I first became familiar with this movie. I had seen Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in separate projects (at this point Ryan was in her peek romcom years), and had some some Rob Reiner films, so I was definitely up for seeing this. I knew of for a while, and I first saw it in my teens (I’m 33 at the time of writing this to give some idea to those reading this), and I definitely enjoyed it at the time. It’s definitely one that got even better as I got older, once I had some experience in the dating world (the success rate is up for debate) and could relate more with the problems of older people.
There are so many reasons this movie works so well. First, you got the terrific script by the late, great Nora Ephron, filled with all kinds of great lines and characterizations that give these characters life. Then there’s Rob Reiner, a director who knows how to bring out terrific performances (probably helped that he started out as an actor), and the four principle actors are fantastic. Any behind the scenes documentaries, interviews, and commentary tracks (of which there are two), will show this was a close collaboration between cast and crew.
Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have such terrific chemistry that it’s a real shame they never did anything else together (much like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman with Casablanca, a movie that’s brought up more than once in this one). Crystal has objectionably the funniest lines in the movie (no real surprise there), but Ryan still gets plenty of her own great lines (plus there’s the infamous orgasm scene at the diner), and together or separate they have so many great moments. They’re not perfect people, but that makes them way more enjoyable and real.
Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby… what losses! These two were so talented and funny! A good portion of the world will always associate Carrie as Princess Leia (which I’m definitely guilty of as well), but man was she so much more than that. This is one of many movies that showed off her talents as comedian (plus she was a bestselling author). Bruno is probably not as well known, he would fall under the “hey, it’s that guy I’ve seen in something at some point” of actors (I know him best from City Slickers, also with Billy); but that doesn’t take away from how wonderful he was either. He was a natural at comedy and drama, something not every performer can boast.
While this often gets labeled as a chick flick (which isn’t inherently a bad thing anyway), I think that’s a simplification, this is definitely a film that I feel has something to appeal to men and women (especially those who have gone through the various trials and tribulations in the world of dating). If you haven’t seen this before, I say give it a chance! And if you haven’t seen it in a while, give it a rewatch! There are definitely worst ways to spend 90 minutes.
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