Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky, and Michelle Nicastro
Academy Award Nominations (1990):
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Nora Ephron
Harry Burns (Crystal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) share a road trip from Chicago to New York following their college graduation. They’re introduced through Amanda, Sally’s friend who is dating Harry at the time. During their trip, they discuss relationships between men and women. Primarily, whether men and women can truly be just friends. Harry says they can’t, Sally says they can. The two part ways, not friends, and over the next 10 years have a few chance encounters which leads them back to this question.
A lot about this film works for me. Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner really created a gem of a love film here. It is an interesting case study in the way that men and women view relationships with one another.
This film is also influential because it introduced relationship terms that have since become commonplace such as a person being ‘high maintenance’ or a ‘transitional partner’ and things of the sort. Though I feel like I’m beating a dead horse every time I write it, something I love about this movie is how the characters and situations reflect real life.
A lot of the dialogue was based on Ephron and her girlfriends’ experiences for Sally, and Reiner and Crystal’s experiences on Harry’s side. This helped give it a genuine, brutally honest feel in the way men and women think. Crystal also helped make Harry’s character funnier and lovable, both natural elements that he would bring to any character really.
A film like this has to have great chemistry between the lead characters. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan do a great job playing off one another. This type of film plays right into Ryan’s wheelhouse. This film, along with Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail are probably her three most well-known roles. I hate to say that she was more or less type cast, but perhaps that just comes with knowing what you’re good at and playing to your strengths.
Though Crystal has had a wider range of roles throughout his career, he works well within this film. His own experiences were integrated into the movie and he and Ryan play well with the chemistry of being friends who slowly grow to like and eventually love each other. The final scene when Harry shows up just as Sally is leaving her New Years Eve party seems a big Hollywood-ish, but at the same time I could see that happening after getting to know these characters. That can be attributed to the strength of the script and the chemistry of these two characters.
When Harry Met Sally… is charming, engaging, and very real. As I was thinking about it last night, I almost feel like this film is a condensed version of the Before Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight trilogy. It’s primarily about two people and their conversations about life and relationships. Though the Before series has a much wider scope and goes into a wider variety of subject matter, it seems like an extension and expansion of When Harry Met Sally… when it comes to format.
Blunt, unapologetic honesty gave this film a unique perspective and the chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan made it lovely and enjoyable. It was entertaining enough that I will probably watch this periodically, and I’d definitely recommend it.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.