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Friday Film Review: When Harry Met Sally

When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Grade: B+

Searching through films for a good New Year’s Eve entry, I came up with two possibilities. Here’s one of them. It’s another movie that, believe it or not, I’d never seen in its entirety. I’d caught bits and pieces over the years when it’s been shown on television but I finally sat down and watched it all and discovered why it’s achieved the status that it has.

Taking the lazy way out, I’m going to credit Greg Bole at IMDB and borrow his succinct plot synopsis: Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) meet when she gives him a ride to New York after they both graduate from the University of Chicago. The film jumps through their lives as they both search for love, but fail, bumping into each other time and time again. Finally a close friendship blooms between them, and they both like having a friend of the opposite sex. But then they are confronted with the problem: “Can a man and a woman be friends, without sex getting in the way?”

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There are several reasons why this movie worked for me. It’s intelligent and doesn’t rely on silly setups or outlandish plot devices to carry it along. Two people meet, have discussions about life, sex and how differently men and women view relationships and the opposite gender. Over time, they become friends then lovers then romantic partners. No wackiness needed. The discussions are fun to listen to and, without taking sides, show that men and women do view the world in different ways yet can still find common ground. More than once, I found myself nodding at something Sally says – it made perfect sense to me too – even as Harry looks at her in disbelief. Then he’d tell her how he went to bed with a date with whom he had almost nothing in common and I’d shake my head just as Sally did.

But it’s also funny. The scene of Harry and his friend Jess (Bruno Kirby) discussing the breakup of Harry’s marriage (“Mr. Zero knew first?!”) while at a Jets game as they periodically have to participate in “The Wave” is a scream. Then there are all Sally’s “food ordering” scenes and, of course, the “faking an orgasm” display which stops all action in the deli, cold. I also love the split screen phone conversation scenes too. The dialogue might be making a point and bringing up serious issues but it’s still done with humor and very little ranting and raving.

The film flows effortlessly and is easy to keep up with despite it’s vignette style. The changing fashions and seasons announce time has advanced allowing us to concentrate on the relationships instead of constantly setting the scene. Watch for Sally’s hair changing from a Farrah Fawcett ‘do’ to styles which don’t require a can of hairspray a day. And despite the fact that it’s over 20 years old now, it doesn’t feel dated as far as the main themes of the movie are concerned. It’s only 96 minutes long, and a lot is packed into those minutes, but I never caught myself clock watching – as Harry famously tells Sally men often do after sex.

The chemistry between Crystal and Ryan is fabulous and the film makers aren’t afraid to let the viewer see them as less than perfect. When Harry meets Sally, it’s easy to see why they quickly part ways and how, when they bump into each other five years later, Sally desperately hopes he won’t be able to remember her. He’s a bit obnoxious and she’s an uptight priss. Five years after that, they’ve both loved and lost and have matured somewhat. Neither is ever totally wrong but neither is totally right either. And they can still be irritating, to us as well as each other.

But what makes the movie for me is how the song “It Had to Be You” could have been written for it. In a lot of rom-coms, when “The End” appears I still sometimes wonder if the bloom will not only come off the rose but if the rose will be tossed in the trash within 5 years. Can the main characters really say they know each other and do I believe it will last? Here, I think they do and that I can. The line from the song, “with all your faults, I love you still” means something.

Harry Burns: I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

Good thing Harry isn’t having to plunge through the 2 feet of snow currently clogging NYC sidewalks to tell Sally this. Happy New Year’s everyone. B+

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

25 Comments

  1. Lexxie Couper
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 04:11:07

    I made my boyfriend at the time take me to this for my birthday. He complained the whole way through the moive about it being stupid, boring and dumb. Suffice to say, he wasn’t my boyfriend next birthday.

    A wonderful film. I love the “interview” segments with other couples as well. The old couple who married, divorced and maried again twenty-five years (I think?) later crack me up.

    I will regularly tell my daughters “today we are going to talk like this” is a silly voice. :)

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  3. Jayne
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 07:17:30

    @Lexxie Couper: The interview segments are great – even if those are professional actors playing the roles of the real life interviewees.

  4. Tee
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 07:34:32

    I may turn out to be the resident curmudgeon here regarding this movie (every blog article needs at least one, right?), but it’s a movie that didn’t work for me. Never could see all the hype to it. I do agree that one of the cutest things about it are the couples at the end giving their little bits of personal information regarding their relationships (real or not).

  5. ShellBell
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 08:35:51

    I’m with you Tee – this movie didn’t work for me either!

  6. Estara
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 08:56:02

    This is one of the view romantic comedies not filmed after Hollywood’s Golden Age that I actually own. I also own the movie OST which introduced me to Harry Connick Jr. – yum.

  7. Estara
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 08:57:05

    @Estara: erm – that should be comedies filmed after

  8. Isabel C.
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 11:09:53

    With ShellBill and Tee, actually: I identify more with the “male” perspective than the “female” one in this movie (as in so many romcoms) and the men-and-women-are-so-different thing always bugs me. (Plus, I worked in retail enough that the uber-specific food ordering had me grinding my teeth.)

    That said, a lot of the scenes are cute, and…it’s engaging even when it annoys me. Also, I do love the interviews.

  9. Susanna Fraser
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 11:14:18

    I saw this movie in high school when it first came out and adored it, but I hadn’t thought of it in years. I need to track it down again and see how it holds up for me–thanks for the reminder!

  10. Lori S.
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 11:26:45

    Love this movie! I really need to swap out my worn-out VHS copy for DVD.

    One of my favorite bits (aside form the ones listed in the review) is when Carrie Fisher’s character dog-ears the index card in her Rolodex. “Married.”

  11. Kim in Hawaii
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 11:40:48

    The movie was broadcast on a cable station during Thanksgiving Weekend. It was a fun trip down memory lane for the movie itself and how much fun NYC is in the fall and winter (with less snow).

    Thanks for the review and the reminder of how thankful I am that I do not have to shovel snow for our New Year’s Eve party tonight!

  12. Jayne
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 13:23:29

    @Lori S.: Because you never know when he might be divorced and available again!

  13. Jayne
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 13:24:24

    @Isabel C.: I think the waitress characters in the movie seem to agree with you.

  14. Lori S.
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 13:46:19

    @Jayne: Exactly! Just ask Mr. Zero.

  15. Gwen Hayes
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 15:41:39

    One of my top five favorite movies ever. Interestingly, two of my top five are directed by Rob Reiner (Harry/Sally and Princess Bride), and two co-star Carri Fisher (Harry/Sally, Star Wars).

    Interesting trivia. Or not.

    Coming from a writing perspective, this movie is amazing. The dialogue is crisp and true to character. I watch it a couple times a year.

  16. Tae
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 21:27:28

    I have never seen this movie and for some reason I’m just not compelled to see it either, it just doesn’t appeal to me

  17. MicheleKS
    Jan 01, 2011 @ 08:07:34

    I watched this again for the first time in years and I still love it. It’s funny and poignant and sharp. I’m not a huge fan of rom-com’s but this one is a keeper for me.

    “I’ll have what she’s having.” – still my favorite line in the movie and for a little trivia that was director Rob Reiner’s mother who said that.

  18. Bonnie Dee
    Jan 01, 2011 @ 08:14:35

    Three words–”baby fish lips”. With all the important discussions about male/female relationships that this movie contains, that’s still my favorite line. RIP Bruno Kirby.

  19. Bella F.
    Jan 01, 2011 @ 08:25:07

    I love this flick!
    Wow, ur a stern grader Jayne, only a B+? lol

    My sister and I always quote Carrie Fisher’s character, “You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right,” when we get caught by the other doing somethin dumb, hahaha!

    Happy New Years everybody :)

  20. JenM
    Jan 01, 2011 @ 09:18:15

    This is my favorite romantic comedy. There are very few movies out there that I’m willing to watch more than once but this is one of them. It’s just so smartly written and so well acted. I love that these two characters are presented in all their imperfections, and they fall in love in spite of each other’s quirks. It’s much more realistic than the usual Hollywood view of romance.

  21. Janine
    Jan 01, 2011 @ 19:12:56

    This is probably my favorite romantic comedy of all time too. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more clever romantic and comedic screenplay.

    There are so many great lines in the dialogue. My husband and I regularly quote from memory lines like “Everyone thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but we can’t all have good taste and a sense of humor,” “Honey, I promise you, no matter what happens, I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table,” “I just want it the way I want it,” and several others.

    The cast are all wonderful in their roles, but I think my favorite might be Carrie Fisher. She’s just terrific, and much more impressive than she’s ever been in any of the Star Wars movies. It makes me wish that she’d gotten more good comedic roles in her career.

    “When Harry Met Sally” is a movie that sneaks up on you. The first time I saw it, I would probably have graded it a B or B+ too, but on my second viewing I started loving it. It’s one of those rare movies that I enjoy and appreciate more and more each time I see it. A lot of the credit goes to the actors but for me the star of the film is Nora Ephron’s screenplay. It’s definitely in the A range for me now.

  22. Jennifer
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 00:37:34

    I spent about ten years laughing my head off every time I ever thought (randomly) of Baby Fishmouth. Then I’d have to explain to whoever was around why I was laughing. And then they thought I was weird.

  23. Lexxie Couper
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 02:13:51

    @Jennifer:

    Because baby fishmouth is sweeping the nation ;)

  24. Janine
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 15:14:52

  25. Gwen Hayes
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 15:19:54

    @Janine: OMG love that!

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