When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Genre: Comedy and Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.

Release Date: July 21st, 1989 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Rob Reiner Actors: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky, Michelle Nicastro, Gretchen Palmer, Harley Jane Kozak

 


 

A

fter graduating from the University of Chicago in 1977, casual, indifferent Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) departs from his overly affectionate girlfriend Amanda Reese (Michelle Nicastro) to head to New York with acquaintance Sally Albright (Meg Ryan), who wants to become a reporter. During the 18-hour drive, they take shifts at the wheel and converse about a wide array of topics, including levels of morbidity and pessimism, the practicality of women, lovemaking, ordering food at restaurants, sex and friendships intermixing, and more. Based on their final exchange about the impossibility for men to be friends with women (due to carnal attraction), they part ways, intending never to see one another again.

Five years later, Sally is a journalist and currently dating a lawyer, Joe (Steven Ford) – a relationship that has persisted for about three weeks. Meanwhile, Harry, now a political consultant, is engaged to an attorney named Helen (Harley Kozak). When Harry and Sally awkwardly reunite at an airport, and then on a shared plane, they separate yet again with Sally finding new disgust for Harry’s despairing information on male sexuality. Another five years pass, and Harry is now in divorce proceedings, while Sally has just broken up with her boyfriend. They coincidentally meet once again, this time in a bookstore, where they regale each other with their romantic woes, before heading to a coffee shop to detail their circumstances further. Commiserating together, they decide to become friends – a change of heart that goes against Harry’s original philosophy. But they’ve both grown and matured over the years, allowing for a unique relationship to successfully blossom.

Written with exceptional insight by Nora Ephron (“Heartburn,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail”), who has always shown adeptness at culling humor from realistic situations and nonchalant small talk, and focusing on strong female characters, this genuinely funny comedy is one of those rare productions that never has a lull or noticeably failed joke. There’s a bit of a Woody Allen vibe in the montages and voiceovers, and a tired framing device (as seen in “Reds” [1981]), in which seemingly real people tell their stories of matrimony (as if to foretell of Harry and Sally’s outcome), but the originality and freshness are always evident. The conclusion might be predictable, but it’s still entirely welcome. Overall, the film represents a grand collaboration between Ephron and director Rob Reiner (“This Is Spinal Tap,” “Stand by Me,” “The Princess Bride”), himself no stranger to blends of romance, fantasy, and comedy.

The majority of the film is a battle for the two lead characters, who are so obviously perfect for one another, to wind up together. The journey is filled with humorous obstacles, rants on regrets and loss, complications by best friends Jess (Bruno Kirby) and Marie (Carrie Fisher), and a nagging refusal to give in to unsubtly harbored emotions. The jealousy and desire (the love/hate scenario) is palpable. From frank dialogue on sex fantasies to disapproving of dating partners to the unbelievably outrageous fake orgasm routine (the picture’s crowning moment), the humor is sensational and the female perspective keen. The drastic differences between men and women are highlighted in clever split-screen gags, variations on storytelling, disruptive arguing, and revelations on sexual tensions. Although often considered a holiday movie, the few scenes set during Christmastime have little impact on the laughs or heartbreaking drama, which, at their greatest moments, impart such moving highs and lows that “When Harry Met Sally…” is undoubtedly one of the very best romantic comedies of its time.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10