When people start to rattle off the great romantic comedies, When Harry Met Sally tends to be mentioned a little too often. Even the title feels overexposed. I remember seeing it as a young teenager, but at the time, it didn’t make much of an impression. I’m sad that it took Carrie Fisher’s untimely death for me to re-examine this film, but I am glad I watched it again.
If you have been living under a rock and have never seen When Harry Met Sally, the film follows Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan), two college graduates who road trip to New York to begin their post-collegiate lives. During the ride, they bond and bicker and ultimately leave each other behind. However, their story isn’t over. They keep randomly running into one another at different stages of their lives. Does this mean their destined to be together? I mean it’s a romantic comedy…so what do you think?
Here are just a few reasons I now appreciate When Harry Met Sally:
Hello, the Cast!
Billy Crystal is not your standard leading man, at least not by today’s standards. However, fitting with my blog, he does fit the mold of a William Powell or a Humphrey Bogart. He’s not a model. He’s a real person. And he’s HILARIOUS. Seriously, he knocks all the one liners out of the park! Is he believable as a 20 year-old college student at the beginning? Of course not, but who cares about that?
Meg Ryan was just twenty-eight when she made this film and although she had made films before this and starred in the long-running soap As the World Turns, the role of Sally Albright was very much her breakout performance, the film that made her into the A-list actress she became. She shines brightly – she’s cute, she’s funny, she’s relatable (except for the fact that she’s drop dead gorgeous)!
And then, of course, there is Carrie Fisher, aka Goddess Divine. Although she only has a supporting role in this film, she leaves an indelible mark. In her early thirties at the time, Fisher’s snappy retorts and natural comic timing are a snapshot of her enormous talent!
The Ridiculously Witty, Touching, HILARIOUS Script
This is what I was most surprised with during my re-watch. The film was written by the great, late Nora Ephron. Though the film’s concept was conceived by director Rob Reiner, Ephron’s personality was all over the script. It was composed of Reiner’s relationship history and Ephron’s and actually has a Before Sunrise-type vibe. It’s all talking, or as my mother would say, “talky, talky, shit, shit, shit.”
The film tries to answer the question: Can men and women be friends without sex becoming a factor? I’ve had several conversations with various people on the subject. Younger people, my peers, tend to say that men and women can absolutely be friends while older people have told me the opposite. Is it age? Experience? That, I cannot say. But, the film does a good job of showing the complexity in maintaining a non-romantic relationship with someone you’re attracted to.
The film is also about how opposites attract. I think the conversation is especially relevant in the age of dating apps and the like. We all swipe through with a list of things we want for our potential partner: non smoker, nerdy, not a douchebag, perhaps a certain height or attractiveness level, where they went to school, what their job is…the list goes on. But, in actuality, in getting to know a person, you’re never going to find someone who fits that list one-hundred percent. Sally is type-A, Harry is go with the flow. Harry is a pessimist, Sally is an optimist. It seems that their attraction is built from their ability to argue with each other in a healthy way.
I love that when these characters do eventually see that they should be together, you understand why. My biggest pet peeve in romantic comedies is when the characters are given no reason to like each other beyond, “We’re both extremely attractive people. We should get together!”
The prolific Rob Reiner directed this romantic gem. If you’re unfamiliar, he’s also behind such classics as Stand By Me, This Is Spinal Tap, and The Princess Bride. Again, the list GOES ON. The idea for this film came from Reiner’s own life. He had just gotten divorced and was trying to jump back into the dating world. Once he met with Ephron, they came up with the “he said, she said” dynamic and the script was born.
First and foremost, When Harry Met Sally is a funny movie. You can’t watch it and not crack up. However, its brilliance comes in the more serious moments where Reiner and Ephron tapped into something real and genuine.
The Big-O Scene
If you know close to nothing about this film, chances are this is the one thing you’ve heard about. Meg Ryan faking an orgasm in Katz’s deli is hands down the most famous scene in the film. The scene was a true collaboration with Meg suggesting she actually fake it as opposed to just talk about it and with Billy suggesting a customer say directly after, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Both worked and Reiner gave the line to his mother, Estelle Reiner, who was visiting set that day.
The Old-School Soundtrack
Reiner wanted a classic soundtrack, kinda Frank Sinatra standards-type stuff. Harry Connick Jr. was in his early twenties. Somehow Reiner heard him and hired him to re-vamp some old school standards. In that way, it was a bridge between the past and the modern. While I still love Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire’s renditions more, I enjoy the music, especially Harry’s rendition of the Gershwin classic that Astaire and Rogers popularized, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
It’s witty, relevant and truly touching!
I’ll be honest. I watched this on NYE, partially to honor Carrie Fisher, partially because the film ends on New Years Eve. I realized this film is more than its hyped up reputation. There’s a reason it’s revered – it’s because it’s great! Even though its last scene is a bit cheesy, you can’t help but eat it up.
In regards to Carrie Fisher, I was deeply saddened by her untimely death. Although this film is but a blip in her career, a sheer sliver of her full talent, it makes me happy to know she lives on through this film and others that she either acted in or wrote.
Vintage trailer below:
When Harry Met Sally Gifs property of Columbia Pictures.
Star Wars gif property of Disney.