WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)
Delightful and even a tear jerker.
An excellent dive into a relationship that rests on the foundation of two charismatic start (Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) and excellent directing.
Very very dialogue heavy but it maintains enough momentum to keep it entertaining. Crystal borders on annoying, especially earlier in the film as a pontificating younger man but luckily he reels it in as the film progresses.
The middle of the film begins to stretch the suspension of disbelief during the period when they’re friends but haven’t slept together yet. Just as you’re screaming to yourself “C’mon you guys are perfect for each other just get it over with!!” they finally do, which leads to more complications and issues for the pair to navigate.
Without checking too closely it seems to follow the classic ‘Saved By The Cat’ formula with Crystal giving the film’s message (Men and Women can’t be friends), the false victory when they sleep together, and the dark night of the soul on New Years.
There were some legitimately lough out loud moments – which surprisingly included the ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ line. Surprising because I knew it was coming, but the timing and delivery were just too good.
Really makes me appreciate the directing of Rob Reiner, because so much of this story is told through glances, looks, pregnant pauses, and characters turning away from each other. Some of it is on the page of the screenplay I’m sure but really delivering it is a whole other beast. He matches and conflicts the external dialogue and internal emotions of the characters brilliantly.
The film is very conscious of its medium as well. Charming interstitials with old couples describing their ‘how they met stories’ serve for charming breaks of the Crystal-Ryan heavy dialogue (and of course the end of the film is Crystal and Ryan describing how they met). The use of the older couples is a nice reference to the pervasiveness of love and the depth of stories around love – each relationship has a story. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY is just one.
Another note on the medium, Reiner uses split screen a few times very effectively. The first when the leads are in bed on the phone with each other – effectively putting them in the same bed. Great visual foreshadowing and insinuation – while the characters weren’t in a physical relationship at this point, they were involved in something more intimate – pillow talk and nighttime comforting.
Another great split screen was following their first night of making love. They both call their friends and have two simultaneous conversations while the couple their calling share a bed. It’s hilarious, well done, underscores the single vs coupled lifestyles, and is brilliant in one take. So well timed.
The supporting characters do a great job of mirroring the leads and their transition from single to coupled further highlights and stresses the leads state as single.
It’s a relatively tight cast – 4 characters really, and while not low budget, makes me optimistic you could pull off a emotional similar feat for low budget. Keep the locations outdoors and varied and the cast charismatic.
The balance of sentiment and humor – without ever dipping below into sad (Meg Ryan comically pulling tissues as she cries comes to mind) – is expertly navigated.
Gold standard for romantic comedy, most definitely.