At first glance, this wasn’t something that was a given.
had just enjoyed a career resurgence from his funny cameo in Reiner’s prior film The Princess Bride. [You can read my review of that film here.] He wasn’t exactly the prototypical romantic leading man, though. Ryan had played supporting roles in several films, most notably as Goose’s girlfriend in Top Gun, but she hadn’t been the co-lead in a film. And as hard as this may be to believe now, the future “ Crystal ’s sweetheart” had never been in a romantic comedy (unless you count John Candy’s movie Armed and Dangerous, which I don’t). The biggest thing When Harry Met Sally had going for it before filming started is that Reiner had just directed one of the most enjoyable films ever made, so when this next movie came out, his name was mentioned as prominently as the two stars. America
The story of When Harry Met Sally is built around the question of whether a man and woman can truly be good friends, or if love and sex will intervene. The two characters meet briefly after college, meet again briefly a few years later, and then finally meet a third time for good. They decide to be friends, denying even to themselves that there is anything more going on. Their two best friends, Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby) even end up in a relationship, but Harry and Sally stick to their friendship roles.
They are two very different personality types. As I mentioned at the top, Harry is dark and sometimes depressed. After Sally defensively mentions that she can be dark sometimes, Harry responds, “Oh, really? When I buy a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.” Just prior to this he had said that Sally was probably the kind of person that dots her “i”s with little hearts. By this point in the film we know that he’s probably right.
She is best described, also by Harry, as a high maintenance woman who thinks she’s low maintenance. When she disputes this, he mimics her ordering a salad in a very particular manner – “Waiter, I'll begin with a house salad, but I don't want the regular dressing. I'll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. ‘On the side’ is a very big thing for you.” She responds, “Well, I just want it how I want it.”
The entire movie is filled with great lines. Some
adlibbed, but many came from Ephron’s Oscar nominated screenplay. The biggest thing this film is remembered for was not in the screenplay, though – Sally faking an orgasm in the middle of a restaurant. The screenplay just had the conversation that preceded it and that was it. Meg Ryan herself was the one who suggested she fake an orgasm and Reiner loved the idea. He even put his own mother in the scene with the line that brought it all home – “I’ll have what she’s having.” It was Crystal that suggested the line. I saw this movie in the theater when it came out. This scene and line just brought the house down. We in the audience were laughing so hard we didn’t even hear the next lines. Crystal
This scene still remains the one that Ryan is best known for. You know how when an actor or actress dies they play the most memorable movie scenes they were in? Are they going to do that with Meg Ryan? Somehow it just wouldn’t seem right. (And yes, the fact that I’ve even thought about that indicates I might have a little bit of a dark side, too.)
The film has a lot of little touches in it that also raise it up. Interspersed among the main story are interludes with older couples talking about how they first met and fell in love. I like these scenes quite a bit and there is a great payoff for them at the end of the film.
Another scene I like is when Harry is leaving a message, trying to get Sally to talk to him. He says, “The fact that you're not answering leads me to believe you're either A: not at home; B: home but don't want to talk to me; or C: home, desperately want to talk to me, but trapped under something heavy. If it's either A or C, please call me back.” I left a message very similar to this on a woman’s answering machine one time, under similar circumstances. When she finally did call me back she asked what was up with the weird message I left. The fact that she didn’t even make the connection with this movie (only a few years after it had come out), nor find it funny, showed me that the two of us were probably not the same kind of people.
One last little touch: About midway through the movie Reiner has Harry reading the book Misery by Stephen King (flipping to the last page to see how it ends, of course). Reiner was already preparing to direct this movie next. In fact, he was on a run of five consecutive movies that are still very well thought of today – Stand by Me (1986), The Princess Bride (1987), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Misery (1990), and A Few Good Men (1992). And this doesn’t even include 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap.
Even if you hate romantic comedies you really owe it to yourself to see When Harry Met Sally. If you’re a guy, suggesting to the woman in your life that you watch this together will probably earn you big points. It is fun, funny, and all-around enjoyable. I highly recommend it.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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DVD Blu-ray Instant Video