When Harry Met Sally: Review

14 February 2010

Written by: Tom Cowie

I first saw When Harry Met Sally a few years ago. I liked it. I did not love it.

It was one of those occasions where I have to admit that I just didn’t get it. The second time I saw the film, I began to understand its charms.

More recently – a few months ago when I was feeling solemn and down – I watched the film, and it lifted my spirits up so high, that I felt like I’d seen it for the first time.

So when I watched this film again for what must have been the forth or fifth time, it proved, yet again, that it is the classic romantic comedy upon which others must be measured.

The film starts, and is interspersed, with adorable elderly couples discussing how they met. This naturally foreshadows the most probable future for our main characters Harry and Sally.

The story begins in 1977 where Harry and Sally share an interstate road trip from Chicago University to New York City. They had not met before this time, and only knew each other through Harry’s girlfriend.

The car trip does not go well, and by the time they reach New York, they cannot wait to get away from each other.

Five years later, they meet on a flight and are once again at loggerheads with each other. However, this time it is through twenty something pre-marriage anticipatory woes rather than ideologically and morality based naiveties.

Finally, another 5 years later, they meet again and become best friends after both of their long-term relationships fall apart. Naturally, this burgeoning friendship progresses to something more.

One of the most striking achievements from the actors in this film is their character development from the Chicago University in 1977 setting, to the current 1988/9 time setting that the majority of the film takes place in. This all stems from the superb talent of the leading actors.

Meg Ryan is irresistible as Sally. Her neuroses are so wonderfully placed against such an innocent pretty appearance that she shouldn’t have anything to worry about at all, adding delightful humour to her character and her performance.

She is funny, vulnerable and charming, and her on screen chemistry with Crystal is just as charming and adorable.

Billy Crystal plays the comedic role that we are familiar with in his roles previous to and following this film. However, as Harry, he is down to earth, dejected and quite the sensitive male.

And yet somehow, through this melancholic display, his vulnerability, particularly after his divorce, is very charming.

We can see When Harry Met Sally being a slightly updated – but also very different – Annie Hall. It has a linear storyline, however couple do not break-up in the end, unlike in Annie Hall.

Though it may sound like the usual Hollywood formula, we must acknowledge the genius of screenwriter Nora Ephron (whom I adore), who credits Ryan, Crystal and also director Rob Reiner for some of the idiosyncrasies of the film.

This truly was a collaborative effort. Ryan is credited for coming up with the orgasm scene, which cannot go without notice, and, for good or bad, sticks out as the most memorable scene in the film.

Furthermore, it includes one of the most memorable lines in the film: “I’ll have what she’s having”, being said by Reiner’s mother.

This film as the whole package; the ultimate rom-com as it’s got something for both the guys and the gals.

The film dissects the idea that popular culture tells us: “Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus.”

According to Harry, men and women cannot be friends without the sex getting in the way. In these conversations that continue to flow throughout the film, we see a predated Sex and the City lunch sex conversation.

Our famous orgasm scene predates a storyline from Sex and the City by about 10 years in being just as on the mark with frank sexual discussion in the mainstream.

It’s no sex, lies and videotape, but for the mainstream, it’s ahead of the game.

Rob Reiner’s genius (which he somehow manages to place into even the smallest detail) is seen in many instances. This is especially so in a scene where Harry is describing to his friend of when his wife left at a baseball game, and, as the story gets worse, they stand up and do the Mexican wave along with the crowd.

Also memorable is the phone call conversation between Harry, Jess, Marie and Sally, which once again skilfully shows off Reiner’s comic timing.

And then there are the bittersweet moments. The best example is at the New Year’s Eve party when both Harry and Sally discover that they have an attraction, which is just as heartbreakingly cute as it is tragic, mainly, because it ends in just a peck on the mouth.

But among all of the funny scenes, the one that sticks out with me the most is just after Harry and Sally have had sex for the first time. She is content and happy and his face reads “What have I done?”

It brings the audience back to the conversation that occurred in the first part of the film, where the pair drive from Chicago to New York. Harry tells Sally that he wonders how long he has to hold the girl before he can leave.

From here, we know that part of their relationship is, if not doomed, then at least troubled. But no spoilers here. You’ll have to see the film to know how it ends.

If I can pass on any advice, do yourself a favour and this Valentine’s Day, do not go and see Valentine’s Day in the cinema, but instead rent or buy When Harry Met Sally.

James Madden is a graduating Bachelor of Arts student, who majored in cinema and media studies at La Trobe University. He contributes to The Vine and is a co founder of Film Blerg, where this review was originally published.