When Harry Met Sally...

movie still

After his divorce from director Penny Marshall, Rob Reiner was casting around for a project which would examine the differences between men and women, encapsulating the difficulties he faced as a divorcé re-entering the singles scene again. When writer Nora Ephron came on board, she suggested that they looked at whether men and women could be platonic friends. So they merged these ideas and started working on the script that became When Harry Met Sally...

Harry and Sally meet in 1977 when they drive from the University of Chicago to New York after graduation. It's an inauspicious beginning, but they meet again by chance in 1982, then 1988. Despite Harry's long-held belief that men and women can't be friends "because the sex part always gets in the way," the third time they meet, they do become friends. By this time, both have been in long-term relationships which have ended and they help each other through the pitfalls and dead-ends of dating in your thirties. But, has the right person been right in front of them all along? And, if they go for it, will it end their friendship, once and for all?

Sometimes, the stars all align in their heavens and you get a perfect mix of script, location, cast and crew. When Harry Met Sally is the embodiment of this phenomenon. In Reiner's long-time friend, Billy Crystal, they have the perfect Harry: funny and cynical yet, underneath it all, still romantic enough to believe that the right person will come along. Meg Ryan's previous biggest roles had been Dennis Quaid's girlfriend in Innerspace and a 5-minute role in Top Gun, but she delivers a career-making performance as Sally, who just wants things the way she wants them:

I'd like the Chef's Salad, please, with oil and vinegar on the side, and the apple pie à la mode, but I'd like the pie heated and I don't want the ice-cream on the top, I want it on the side and I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla, if you have it. If not, then no ice-cream, just whipped cream, but only if it's real. If it's out of a can, then nothing.

Round it off with best friends Jess (Kirby) and Marie (Fisher), providing a necessary Greek Chorus and cheering squad, and you have the perfect cast.

Nora Ephron's script is perfectly judged. The obvious Billy Crystal-isms provide the bitter for the sweet, but the dialogue rings true throughout. And there's any number of stand-out moments: Ryan's faked orgasm scene in Katz's Diner, the Mr Zero speech at Meadowlands Stadium and Sally's dreadful attempt at karaoke. Reiner's direction is also on point, allowing the characters and the story to grow at their natural pace and using the New York locations as a character in their own right. And New York itself looks magical, truly a city of wond'rous joy, especially with a soundtrack featuring Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jnr, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, among others.

Comparisons to Woody Allen are unavoidable - neurotic lead, fussy heroine, NYC locations - but this is a much warmer picture than Woody would have produced. It's witty, romantic and unashamedly old-fashioned, harking back to fast-talking 1940s comedies like His Girl Friday. A true delight from start to finish.

Rob Reiner
Nora Ephron
Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Lisa Persky, Stephen Ford, Harley Jane Kozak
Release details:
Castle Rock, USA 1989, Ih 36mins
Romantic comedy
Our rating:
10 out of 10
User rating:

Rating: 8.75 [4 votes]


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