Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #90: When Harry Met Sally...

There is an age-old question regarding whether single men and women can be just friends. In real life the answer is obviously “yes,” but in movies and TV the answer always has to be that at some point two single characters will get attracted to each other and move beyond friendship. On TV I find this to be contrived and overused, but some movies can have a lot of fun with the concept, most notably Rob Reiner’s comedy classic When Harry Met Sally…(1989). It may not change your view on love and friendship, but it forever changed the meaning of the phrase “I’ll have what she’s having.”

On paper this film’s premise sounds like another rom-com, but seen by oneself during an evening of Netflix binging it does make you think about deep stuff like the long-term impact of your decisions on your life. A person you meet during a tense trip might turn up again sometime later down the road in the most unexpected ways. If there is one thing I believe in it is infinite possibilities, and Nora Ephron’s script posits the possibility that Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) could randomly bump into each other over the years always denying they should be more than friends.

When Harry, just like the title says, meets Sally it doesn’t look as though these two have much of a future. It is 1977 and they are both university graduates who have decided to share a ride to New York City where like many people they are hoping to start their careers. Naturally to pass the time they start having conversations, mainly about relationships since Harry is dating a friend of Sally’s. The conversations take a sour turn when Harry posits it is impossible for men and women to be friends because sex always gets in the way. This leads to an argument that has them part ways with no desire to see each other again once they get to the Big Apple.

That would be the end of that, except five years later they bump into each other again at an airport. A very plausible coincidence, but it seems fate is pushing them together since Sally is also dating Harry’s neighbour. Another five years later, and this time it is an encounter at a coffee shop where they end up tallying their previous relationships, which all ended badly. This leads Harry to formally propose they become the exception to his rule and become best friends. Obviously, this is where things get juicy.

If Harry and Sally were of the same sex, no one would bat an eye at their relationship. However their respective best friends (Bruno Kirby and the late great Carrie Fisher) notice that these two are practically dating without the sex. You could argue they are being intimate since they have intimate phone conversations at night, have dinner together, and tell each other everything.

Harry even gets to hear Sally orgasm, or at least pretend to, when he posits yet another theory: that women can’t fake it in bed. To rebuke him, Sally is not shy about convincingly pretending to climax in a diner full of customers, leading the lady next to her to ask the waiter to serve whatever Sally is having. The best part: said lady is Estelle Reiner, the director’s own mom.

The ending of When Harry Met Sally…is of course fairly predictable and has inspired quite a few other romantic comedies since then, but it is scenes like the one described above that makes it stand above the crowded field. Then there are the two leads who are both well-rounded characters portrayed by Crystal and Ryan at the top of their game. For a certain generation Crystal is a one-eyed monster from a Pixar movie, but for others he is a terrific romantic lead delivering some great lines written by Nora Ephron, whose career featured many other successful screenplays.


This may be a romantic comedy with a predicable plot, but it is also one of those rare films you are still thinking about days after seeing it, and possibly quoting it years later.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #29: Die Hard

This year I have been going all over the place with this Greatest Movies List, sometimes reviewing the next movie on the list, sometimes reviewing one I saw a few weeks ago. Since I am playing fast and loose with the rules, and since this is the Holiday season, why not skip down the list to what is arguably one of the all time greatest Christmas movies, Die Hard (1988)? Some people like to spend the Christmas season watching an angel get its wings, some like to watch a millionaire learn the meaning of Christmas, I like to watch Alan Rickman read the words “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”
After five movies I think even the most die-hard fans (wink) would agree this franchise has gone on for too long, but the first three movies are some of the best action movies of the 80s and 90s. I actually watched them out of order, starting with the second one, followed by the third and eventually making it to the one that started it all at Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve. Watching those movi…