When Harry Met Sally is in my top 3 all-time favourite movies. I could watch this film at any time of any day over and over on a loop. It never gets old, and never loses its charm. This is due to one woman and one woman only; Nora Ephron. One of the best women in the industry, she was responsible for writing Silkwood (1983) and writing and directing Sleepless in Seattle (1993), You’ve Got Mail (1998) and Julie and Julia (2009) she has proven that women can have careers behind the camera in Hollywood and bloody good ones too.
The film spans 12 years in the life of Harry Burns (Crystal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) who meet when they drive across country together from Chicago to New York after college. They discover on the drive that they don’t like each other very much, especially after Harry states that men and women simply can’t be friends, because sex always gets in the way. This simple statement is the basis for the film, the two meet briefly again a few years later and the subject is again brought up. They have both started living their lives, happy with both career and love life, but still don’t particularly like each other. They part ways, each fairly glad to see the back of the other, and it is not until they enter their 30’s that they meet again, each having reached a crossroads in their life, and are at their most vulnerable and lowest. They become friends and the statement that Harry made all those years before is tested in their relationship. Can they be friends, or will sex get in the way?
Ephron wrote the screenplay for When Harry Met Sally with the film’s director Rob Reiner. Both Harry and Sally have characteristics that came from both writers, for example Reiner was love sick at the time and his attitude was written into the script, as was Ephron’s picky eating habits, which are one of Sally’s most noticeable but endearing qualities. The script for this movie I believe is one of the greatest ever written. You can hear the magic in every line, it is faultless. You can almost feel that every piece of dialogue has been painstakingly thought about and placed in order, excluding the improvisation from the genius Crystal, which is as good as any script could ever be. It is essentially the script that puts the film leagues above other chick-flicks and why it is so loved by audiences and critics.
In his portrayal of Harry Burns I honestly believe it is the best performance Billy Crystal has ever given, including the little green eyeball with legs that was Mike Wazowski from Pixar’s Monsters Inc. (2001). Crystal seems like the oddest choice for the part, especially in a romantic comedy. He is no Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt let’s face it, but he totally suits the part, even though realistically he is slightly too old and wears one of Hollywood’s worst wigs in history. You forgive all this because he is perfect and his chemistry with his leading lady is perfection itself, however odd a couple they look and seem.
Speaking of the leading lady, Meg Ryan will forever be remembered for the orgasm diner scene in this film. It is probably the first thing that audiences connect with her and rightly so, it is one of the funniest scenes ever committed to film and Ryan should be proud not only for pulling it off, but also for coming up with the idea to play out the scene rather than just talk about it as was written in the original script. She is responsible for the most memorable scene in the movie and subsequently the infamous line in response to it; “I’ll have what she’s having” number #33 on the AFI’s list of Best 100 Movie Quotes in American Film, and it wasn’t even uttered by an actor but the director Rob Reiner’s own mother.
Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby are brilliant co-stars in the film as Marie and Jess best friends of Sally and Harry and their sounding boards for their problems with life and each other; they also have great chemistry and are a believable couple. But it is the chemistry of Crystal and Ryan (who let’s face it you would not ordinarily put together) which makes the film so successful and the way they are able to play off each other gives the film its sparkle. I think it is the fact that you would not see them as a couple that makes the film so hilarious and yet so original, defying all odds the pairing works remarkably well. The last scene at New Year is one of my favourites in any movie I’ve ever seen. You laugh and you cry (but happy cry of course) and it is moving and funny all at the same time, a priceless effect.
The soundtrack is also something to listen out for, full of old 1930’s classics that remind you of Fred and Ginger in their heyday. A memorable effect was the choice to add romantic stories from the elder generation to split the years and scenes. Reiner personally collected these true stories and then had actors perform them in the movie. It is a moving and often hilarious touch.
Just writing about this film brings back all my favourite moments, if you haven’t seen it I could not tell you more strongly to go and watch this, you will marvel at the sheer brilliance of the script and revel in the great chemistry between Crystal’s Harry and Ryan’s Sally. It’s currently on Netflix, so what’s your excuse. I hope you love the film as much as I do and if you haven’t seen it, I sincerely hope you get from it what I have. It is in my opinion the greatest romantic comedy of all time and one of the greatest scripts ever written. I think I’m going to go and watch the film right now actually; I’ve talked myself into it. Enjoy.